Then and Now

Computers have played an important role at the Laboratory since it was founded in 1943. The wartime staff used hand-operated slide rules and adding machines, but by the early 1950s, the Laboratory had built one of the world's first electronic digital computers. Called the MANIAC (mathematical analyzer, numerical integrator, and computer), it was used to carry out calculations necessary for hydrogen bomb research as well as studies of thermodynamics, simulations using the Monte Carlo method, and attempts to decode DNA. In the following years, the Laboratory developed computers cooperatively with corporate partners such as IBM, Control Data Corporation, and Cray Research. The Cray 1, completed in 1976, is often regarded as the world's first modern supercomputer.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Los Alamos played an important role developing major computing advances, such as parallel processing and cluster architecture. In 2008, its Roadrunner computer became the first to break the petaflop barrier—one quadrillion floating-point operations per second—enabling scientists to accurately model a vast array of complex phenomena including nuclear tests, pandemics, supernovae, and climate change. Last year, another petascale computer arrived at Los Alamos. Named Cielo (Spanish for sky), it will run some of the largest and most demanding workloads in modeling- and simulation-based science. Among supercomputers, Cielo currently ranks sixth in the world and Roadrunner ranks tenth.

A simulation of a foam material being crushed under a gravitational load

A simulation of a foam material being crushed under a gravitational load, projected in an immersive display room known as the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment). The coloring indicates stress in the material (magenta is greatest).


MANIAC, the first computer at Los Alamos (1952).


Cray 1, the Laboratory's first supercomputer (1976).


Cielo, the leading supercomputer in the Laboratory today (ranked #6 in the world).

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