Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

The history of computing from punched cards to petaflops

Nuclear weapons drives the history of computing
March 25, 2013
Graphic showing computing history

The supercomputers Los Alamos uses today run simulations of nuclear weapons and complex systems in the natural world.


  • Managing Editor
  • Clay Dillingham
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Nuclear science has provided much of the motivation and funding for large-scale scientific computing.

National security science drives the evolution of supercomputing


Scientists at Los Alamos have pushed the frontiers of computing in order
  • to design and simulate nuclear weapons performance and also
  • to advance many fields of science.

During World War II, Los Alamos relied on the precursors of computers to perform the calculations necessary for building the atomic bomb.

Since then the Laboratory has used many historical computers. In the 1950s it used the first modern computers, ENIAC and MANIAC. Los Alamos had its first supercomputer (capable of one megaflop) in the 1960s.

In 2008 its uniquely designed Roadrunner was the fastest supercomputer in the world. It was the first supercomputer to reach a thousand trillion calculations per second, a measure known as petaflops.

The next supercomputer at Los Alamos, Trinity, will be even faster than Roadrunner.

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