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Interview with B Associate OB W Director EBSTER Weapons Physics for The new associate director discusses his viewpoints regarding the nature of the science and scientists at the Laboratory... and why he misses using his slide rule. Recently, Bob Webster was named the Laboratory’s Associate Director for Weapons Physics. He oversees the Computational Physics and Theoretical Design divisions, as well as the Laboratory’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program. The Laboratory’s ASC capabilities are inextricably woven into the work of weapons physics and design. Webster recently spoke with National Security Science (NSS) about his new role at the Laboratory. Webster: I think there was some value in the way that we had to think about the problems when we were still using slide rules, a way that we could reintroduce into the system right now. At the same time, though, there is a tremendous opportunity presented by leaving slide rules behind. NSS: Where in the evolution of computing did you start your career? If you look at the last 20 to 25 years, there’s a fundamental shift in how supercomputing underwrites our evaluation of scientif- ic problems. In the ’70s, supercomputing, or high-performance computing, which wasn’t very “high performance” by today’s standards, was sometimes viewed as a crutch. Webster: I think I was in the last class at Case Western Reserve University that used slide rules in the exams. Slide rules were abandoned between my freshman first semester and the spring semester that year; the university finally let us use calculators. So initially many of us were still carrying “slip sticks” to engineering classes. That was a different era in terms of how we thought about solving physics problems because we didn’t have computers the way we have them now. Today it’s an integral part of synthesizing theories—we can evaluate very complex scenarios that we can’t actually test. For economic, political, and risk factors, we can’t always employ the classic, direct scientific experimentation that we were taught to do. I think that’s something we need to get out to folks—supercomputing is integral. We can’t separate it from doing the experiments and doing the analytic theories anymore. NSS: So do you think anything was lost by leaving the slide rule behind? But there was loss there with leaving the slide rule behind. We started to leave experiments behind more than we should have. Experiments got very expensive, so there’s a tendency 52 Los Alamos National Laboratory