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Symposium Celebrates David Brown’s Influential DOE Career

June 23, 2022

By Linda Vu
Contact: [email protected]

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David Brown at the June 17 event honoring his four-decade career and contributions to the DOE’s applied mathematics and computational science programs: "I will miss being part of the fun every day," he said. (Credit: Margie Wylie)

On Friday, June 17, David Brown’s friends and colleagues gathered virtually and in person at UC Berkeley’s Stanley Hall to celebrate his 38-year career and contributions to the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) applied mathematics and computational science programs. 

The event captured nearly four decades of accomplishments, from Brown’s early leadership roles in the Overture Project at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) National Laboratories and DOE’s Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing program to his founding contributions to the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (CSGF) and his work as the Director of Berkeley Lab’s Computational Research Division, now the Applied Mathematics and Computational Research Division (AMCR).

Brown will retire from Berkeley Lab on July 1, 2022.

“I would like to congratulate David for his many career accomplishments and to thank him for his service to the nation, DOE, and the National Labs over the span of three decades,” said Steve Binkley, Deputy Director of the Office of Science, at the event.

“I do not think it is an overstatement to say that David has had more of an impact on DOE’s applied math and computer science community and programs than any other person. Thank you for that, thank you for all of your service, and thank you personally for being such a great role model,” said Jeff Hittinger, Director and Division Leader of LLNL’s Center for Applied Scientific Computing.

Brown’s dedication to mentorship and building a diverse talent pipeline for applied mathematics and computational research departments at DOE national labs was a recurring theme of the day.

“Since I started my career in computer science, diversity in the field has gone from bad to worse,” said Kathy Yelick, UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor of Research and former associate laboratory director for the Computing Sciences Area (CSA) at Berkeley Lab. “It hasn’t improved much, even over 30 years. When I was at Berkeley Lab, David and I talked many times about what could be done about the diversity issues that we had in computing. I was frustrated by the problem and wasn’t sure what to do.”

According to Yelick, Brown suggested two ideas: hire diverse postdocs and work with Marianne Leung to create the Sustainable Research Pathways (SRP) program. These suggestions led Berkeley Lab’s CSA to rework its postdoc hiring process. And during the SRP program’s first five years, it fostered more than 100 connections between Berkeley Lab scientists and faculty members from various underserved colleges and universities, including several historically black colleges and universities and hispanic serving institutions.

Barbara Helland, associate director of the Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, summed up Brown’s commitment to mentorship as “the David Brown factor.”

“You could always tell what lab David Brown was working at because that’s where most of the CSGF fellows chose to do their practicums. It started at Los Alamos, then Livermore, and then Berkeley,” said Helland. “It wasn’t only CSGF fellows doing practicums, but there are now several former fellows actually working at national labs across the DOE complex, and that’s due to David’s hard and tireless work on making the fellowship what it is today.” 

Horst Simon, ASCR Senior Technical Advisor and formerly Berkeley Lab’s Deputy Director for Research, credited Brown with raising the profile of applied math and computational research at Berkeley Lab by championing the idea of team science, which encouraged scientists across all domains at Berkeley Lab to collaborate with his division’s researchers. This approach to science has led to numerous scientific breakthroughs and effectively tripled CRD’s budget.

“David has been at Berkeley Lab for over ten years, and in that time, he transformed the Computational Research Division,” said Simon. “His willingness to engage with people and be a spokesperson for computational science created an atmosphere of partnership across the Lab, making the Computational Research Division a partner of choice across all areas of science.”

“David has done a marvelous job of shepherding applied math over the years. Its strength today is largely attributable to him,” said John Bell, Berkeley Lab mathematician. “Thank you for your service. You’ve made a tremendous difference to applied math at DOE.”

In his closing remarks, Brown thanked his parents for supporting his love for math and science and expressed his pride in the mentorship programs, like CSGF and SRP, that he helped to create and for the difference they’ve made for students and early career researchers.  

“It’s been really gratifying to watch the progress of the [computing sciences research] organization since I’ve been here. We’ve become much more collaborative and now interact with the rest of Berkeley Lab. Computing is viewed as an essential part of science now, whereas 40 years ago, it was perhaps a luxury or a novelty that you might or might not use in science,” said Brown.

“Looking to the future, I will miss being part of the fun every day; I’ll miss talking to all of you, particularly to all the early career people and learning what excites them,” he added.

 Recordings of the symposium (broken into two parts) are available on Vimeo.

About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

High performance computing plays a critical role in scientific discovery, and researchers increasingly rely on advances in computer science, mathematics, computational science, data science, and large-scale computing and networking to increase our understanding of ourselves, our planet, and our universe. Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Area researches, develops, and deploys new foundations, tools, and technologies to meet these needs and to advance research across a broad range of scientific disciplines.

Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.