NERSC: Powering Scientific Discovery Since 1974

The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center got its start with a cast-off computer and couple of modems in 1974. Today its supercomputing systems fuel the science of thousands of researchers working on hundreds of projects across every scientific discipline.

In 1974, an almost-obsolete supercomputer once used for defense research was made available to support the fusion energy research community, the first time such a powerful computing resource was used for unclassified scientific computing. That start as the Controlled Thermonuclear Research Computing Center marked the launch of what today is known as the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.;xNLx;Located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1974-96, the center was renamed the National Magnetic Fusion Energy Computing Center in 1976 and in 1983 began providing a fraction of its computing cycles to other research areas. To reflect its increasingly broad scientific mission, the center was christened the National Energy Research Supercomputer Center in 1990. The center moved to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 1996 and was renamed the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.;xNLx;Through the years, NERSC’s mission has remained consistent: to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by providing high performance computing, information, data and communications services to the DOE Office of Science community.;xNLx;Today NERSC serves thousands of researchers from universities, national laboratories and industry worldwide, one of the largest and most diverse research communities of any computing facility. Over its long history, the facility and its staff have developed an outstanding reputation for providing both high-end computing systems and comprehensive scientific client services.

1973-06-01 10:08:24

A Computing Center for Fusion Energy

In June, Alvin Trivelpiece, deputy director of the Controlled Thermonuclear Research (CTR) Program of the Atomic Energy Commission, looking to significantly expand the use of computers to aid in reaching the goal of fusion power, solicits proposals for such a computing center.

1973-06-28 10:08:24

Bids Open for $11 million of Computer, Networking Gear

The center issues a request for proposals for a large central computer and smaller systems at four labs, as well as networking equipment to connect the machines. The request is sent to 52 vendors and the budget is $11 million.

1973-11-01 10:08:24

LLNL Chosen as Site for New Center

After reviewing proposals from Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Oak Ridge national labs and New York University, the Controlled Thermonuclear Research Division of the Atomic Energy Commission names Lawrence Livermore as the site for a new unclassified computer center for studying fusion energy.

1974-03-04 10:08:24

John Killeen Named Center's First Director

Sid Fernbach, head of Computation at Lawrence Livermore, announces the new center will be led by John Killeen. Fernbach projects a staff of 30 to 40 members once the center is in full operation.

1974-07-05 10:08:24

CDC 6600 Provides Center's First Cycles

In July, the Controlled Thermonuclear Research Computer Center begins providing cycles using a Control Data Corp. 6600 computer (serial no. 1) known as the G-machine. Users at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL) access the machine via four acoustic modems (at 110 Baud or roughly 110 characters per second). The launch also helps center staff gain hands-on experience, including installation of software necessary for remote access.

1975-01-19 10:08:24

ERDA Created to Take Over from AEC

In January, the Energy Research and Development Administration comes into being, taking management of the energy research and development, nuclear weapons and naval reactors programs from the Atomic Energy Commission.

1975-03-15 10:08:24

Princeton Gets RJET, Direct Access

Remote access to the G-machine is upgraded to 16 dialup self-answering modems The RJET, or Remote Job Entry Terminal, is delivered to Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in February to allow direct connection to the center computer. The terminal, based on a PDP-8 minicomputer, could produce text or graphical data, and was also equipped with a card reader for data input. Access is by a leased line with a capability of 4,800 bits per second. Later, PDP-10 systems for remote log-ins to the center are installed at Oak Ridge, PPPL and Los Alamos.

1975-08-25 10:08:24

CDC 7600 Goes Online, Offers 36 Mflop/s

A Control Data Corp. 7600 supercomputer known as the A-machine is installed as the main system for the center. Acceptance testing begins in September. The A-machine, with a theoretical peak speed of 36 megaflops, is officially accepted in October, six weeks later than expected.

1975-10-15 10:08:24

General Atomics Joins Center Users

CTRCC staff and users begin switching to the new machine in October 1975. By mid-month, the switch becomes official, users are trained on the 7600 hardware and software, and a PDP-10 is installed at General Atomics in San Diego and at Livermore’s fusion research program.

1976-05-20 10:08:24

Access via 56Kbps Lines, MFE Beginnings

Access is provided via leased 56-kilobits-per-second lines and remote access terminals are added at UCLA and UC Berkeley. Users can move a file from the A-machine to the center’s PDP-10, where it can then be spooled to a Tektronix printer over one of four 1200 Baud lines, as well as transfer files between other sites. This is the beginning of the Magnetic Fusion Energy Network (MFEnet), which will eventually become the Energy Sciences Network, or ESnet.

1976-08-10 10:08:24

LLNL Machine Swamped, LBNL Helps

Remote access leads to the machine being run at full capacity. Additional time is purchased on a CDC 7600 at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (jobs are driven by car to Berkeley in the evening, run overnight and then returned to Livermore in the morning).

1976-08-15 10:08:24

Online Documentation Grows to 50

In August, the number of stored files reaches 18,853. There are 50 online documents.

1976-12-01 10:08:24


The CTR Computer Center is renamed the National Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center.

1977-04-15 10:08:24

User Newsletter "Buffer" Debuts

1977-08-01 10:08:24

Center Users Triple in Two Years

In its first two years, the center grows from serving 15 user groups with 227 assigned users to 32 groups with 683 users. The MFE network connects users in 13 states with the center.

1977-09-15 10:08:24

Center Welcomes LLNL Family Day Visitors

As part of LLNL Family Day in September, the center provides tours and showings of computer-generated films about fusion energy to visitors. Guests can also use MFEnet to play games. Read the NMFECC guide for the event.

1977-10-01 10:08:24

Department of Energy Launched

In October, the U.S. Department of Energy assumes responsibilities of ERDA and other energy-related agencies.

1977-12-15 10:08:24

Center Signs Contract for Cray-1

The facility signs a contract for a Cray-1. The new system will have 200,000 integrated circuits on 1,600 printed circuit boards and be up to five times faster than the CDC 7600. The Cray-1’s footprint will be 70 square feet of floor space.

1978-01-30 10:08:24

Storage Migrates to CDC 3850 System

At the start of the year, the center begins converting its long-term data storage from conventional tapes to a new 500-billion bit CDC 3850 mass storage device.

1978-02-15 10:08:24

Online Documents Now Total 100

An estimated 100 documents for users are available electronically. The document set equals about 6,000 pages of printed information.

1978-02-20 10:08:24

NMFECC Develops CTSS for Cray-1

NMFECC undertakes a major software project to convert the 7600 operating system (LTSS or Livermore Time Sharing System), utilities and libraries to the new Cray-1. The resulting system is called the Cray Time Sharing System (CTSS) and begins use in June, with 24-hour reliability provided in September. Previously, computers were set up for batch processing by onsite users, so a new time-sharing system was needed to allow interactive use of the Cray-1 by users at other national labs. CTSS is adopted by six other computer centers.

1978-03-01 10:08:24

Groundbreaking for new NMFECC Building

In March, the NMFECC breaks ground for its new facility at Lawrence Livermore. Already, energy efficiency is a consideration – heat carried away from the computers will be used to help heat the building in cooler winter months.

1978-04-01 10:08:24

NMFECC Prints its First Brochure

The center explains its purpose and outlines cutting-edge computational capabilities.

1978-05-03 10:08:24

New Cray-1 Supercomputer Arrives

In May 1978, the new Cray-1 with a peak speed of 250 megaflops arrives. The machine, serial no. 6, passes acceptance testing on June 21, 1978.

1979-06-15 10:08:24

Center Forms its Own Operations Group

NMFECC forms its own Operations Group, with eight operators hired to provide round-the-clock support. Previously, operators from other computing groups were rotated in.

1979-08-17 10:08:24

Center Moves Into New Dedicated Facility

The new NMFECC building is officially dedicated in October. In his remarks, DOE’s Edwin Kintner notes that in a commercial setting, the cost of operating a Cray-1 is about $8,000 per hour. In most labs, that cost is about $2,000, but NMFECC does the job for about $1,000 per hour, including all communications and staff costs. As part of the center’s move to its new building, four major computers and network equipment with a total value of $25 million are moved in November. Downtime is less than four days.

1979-10-01 10:08:24

NMFECC First to Install NAG Library

The NMFECC and Livermore Computing Center become the first centers to install the Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG) library on Cray supercomputers.

1979-12-31 10:08:24

NMFECC User Base Tops 1,000

The center begins the year with 997 users and ends with 1,330.

1980-02-15 10:08:24

NMFECC Staff Move Into New Home

The NMFECC staff make the move to the center’s new building, completing the transition from World War II-era barracks buildings to a dedicated facility at LLNL.

1980-11-01 10:08:24

University Users Make up 26 Percent of Total

In a year-end summary, the center reports that 26 percent of its users are at universities and 74 percent are at national laboratories.

1980-12-03 10:08:24

Killeen Honored by DOE

John Killeen, director of the NMFECC, is recognized as a DOE Distinguished Associate, one of the department’s highest honors. Killeen is cited for his leadership of the center since its creation and for being “a spokesman for computational physics in the fusion community.”

1981-03-11 10:08:24

Satellites Link Center, User Sites

MFEnet’s new satellite links provided by American Satellite Corp.go on line, providing seamless connections to the center. With the success of the initial link to PPPL, additional Remote User Service Stations and VAXs are connected, bringing to 23 the number of remote sites.

1981-05-22 10:08:24

Lights! Action! A Cameo Role in "Tron"

When Walt Disney Productions needs a high-tech setting for their film “Tron,” they bring the cast and crew to the NMFECC and other sites at Lawrence Livermore. In the film, Jeff Bridges plays a computer game expert who goes into a computer to foil an evil genius.

1981-09-11 10:08:24

Second Cray-1 Machine Arrives

A second Cray-1 with 2 million words of memory is installed at the NMFECC.

1981-10-05 10:08:24

Center Fully Staffed with 6 Consultants

The center reaches what it considers to be a fully staffed consulting desk – with six consultants.

1982-07-01 10:08:24

David Culler Leaves for Grad School

NMFECC employee David Culler, who has been working on the CTSS, leaves the center to attend grad school. After completing his Ph.D. in 1989, he joins the faculty at UC Berkeley. In July 2012, Culler is appointed chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

1982-12-01 10:08:24

Graphic Data Displays Added

To display graphic data, the center installs four prototype Graphics User Service Station (GUSS) displays. By the end of the year, GUSS displays are in place at each major site served by NMFECC.

1982-12-30 10:08:24

MIT Added as User Site

MIT is among three sites added to the center network. Universities accounted for 27 percent of NMFECC’s computing resource users. The major users — Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge national laboratories, General Atomics and Princeton Plasma Physics Lab — used 64 percent of the resources, with the remainder going to other labs.

1983-05-03 10:08:24

Will PCs Replace Remote Terminals?

With the emergence of personal computers on the market, the center begins assessing whether PCs could replace dedicated terminals to allow users to log into the Cray systems.

1983-05-03 10:08:24

NMFECC Broadens Science Portfolio

The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Research asks the NMFECC to expand its services to include researchers in other fields. This will result in 13 additional sites joining the network. In June, 5 percent of the computing resources are immediately allocated, with requests exceeding available time by an order of magnitude.

1983-11-15 10:08:24

NMFECC Posts Holiday Wish List

In the December issue of the Buffer, a Holiday Card shows what NMFECC staff would like as gifts for the coming year.

1983-12-31 10:08:24

2,400 Users and Counting in 1983

The center is serving 2,400 users by the end of 1983.

1984-01-27 12:55:29

Two Processor Cray X-MP Boosts Capacity

To accommodate the additional users, now numbering 3,500 at 28 sites, a Cray X-MP is added to the NMFECC. The new machine, which features two CPUs and allows codes to run on more than one processor, is quickly saturated with users.

1984-11-01 10:08:24

MFEnet Eyes Int'l Connections

MFEnet staff meet with their counterparts at computing facilities in Japan, England and West Germany with an eye toward establishing international connections.

1984-12-20 10:08:24

Center Supports 3,500 Users in 1984

By the end of the 1984, the center has 3,500 users, or about 38 users per center employee. In 1981, the ratio was 20 users per staffer.

1985-01-15 10:08:24

Paper Describes CTSS Evolution

Writing in Software: Practice and ExperienceThe NMFECC's Kirby Fong describes the center's Cray Time Sharing System.

1985-01-23 10:08:24

Two-CPU Cray X-MP Added

To accommodate the additional users, now numbering 3,500 at 28 sites, a Cray X-MP is added to the NMFECC. The new machine, which features two CPUs and allows codes to run on more than one processor, is quickly saturated with users.

1985-06-12 10:08:24

First Cray-2 Installed

The center acquires the first Cray-2 supercomputer ever built, the most powerful computer in the world at the time. The four-processor machine, along with the two-processor X-MP, allows multiprocessing of codes, which greatly accelerates the speed of computing. The 10-year-old CDC 7600 is retired.

1985-06-15 03:01:18

Mission Broadened to More Sciences

The broadening role of NMFECC in supporting DOE programs finds nearly a third of the computing resources going to projects other than fusion research. Basic Energy Sciences accounts for nearly 15 percent of the total allocations, health and environment 14 percent, high energy and nuclear physics 12 percent and applied math 2.5 percent.

1985-08-11 10:08:24

Center Launches Superkids Program

The center hosts its first High School Supercomputing Honors Program, bringing 52 students (one representing each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) for a week of hands-on learning. The participants are informally called “superkids.”

NERSC: Powering Scientific Discovery Since 1974

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