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Bill Buzbee

Oral History (pdf
Supplementary Materials Page                                                                     

Interviewer: Thomas Haigh

Bill Buzbee discusses his career as a mathematical specialist within Los Alamos and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and his involvement in the field of mathematical software. Buzbee served in the Air Force before gaining undergraduate and masters’ degree in mathematics and numerical analysis from the University of Texas at Austin where he studied with David Young and Bob Gregory. After graduation in 1962, he went to work at Los Alamos where he remained until 1987 aside from a brief stint at Esso in 1967-8 working on three-dimensional reservoir simulation. At Los Alamos he worked first on weapons simulations, but soon joined the central computing group, where he worked on implementing algorithms from Jim Wilkinson’s Algebraic Eigenvalue Problem. During this period he came into contact with the emerging community of people interested in mathematical software, including Cleve Moler, Jim Pool, Gene Golub and Jack Dongarra. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico in 1972, after which he took over the management of a group within Los Alamos working on mathematical software and programming services. In 1974 Buzbee became a member of the Common Math Library Subcommittee of a new inter-laboratory program called SLATEC, devoted to encouraging technical collaboration between the computing departments of atomic weapons sites. This program eventually produced the SLATEC Library, a merged and consolidated collection of mathematical routines. During the early 1980s, Buzbee rose into more senior management positions at Los Alamos and played an important role in advising the federal government on the new field of supercomputing. He also emerged as an expert in the new field of parallel computing. In 1987, Buzbee moved to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) where he headed its Scientific Computing Division until 1998. While the division thrived under Buzbee’s leadership, in 1996 he found himself in the center of a political storm following a decision to procure the Japanese-built NEC SX-4 supercomputer for climate simulation, rather than an American model. Buzbee discusses the issues involved and his experiences at this time. Buzbee retired not long after the procurement was halted. He has remained active as a consultant to several organizations, including the Arctic Regional Supercomputer Center.

Key words: mathematical software, reservoir simulation, weapons simulation, SLATEC Library, EISPACK, LINPACK, supercomputing, climate simulation

Funding Agency: U.S. Department of Energy,

Time frame:  1950's, 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990's

People: David Young, Robert Gregory, Robert Richtmeyer, Don Peaceman, Henry Rachford, Jim Douglas, James Wilkinson, Cleve Moler, James Pool, Gene Golub, Jack Dongarra

Location: University of Texas at Austin, University of New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Esso Production Research, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Citation: Bill Buzbee, Oral history interview by Thomas Haigh, 8 and 9 April, 2005, Westminster CO. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia, PA


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