August 5, 2015
Father of molecular dynamics to celebrate 90th birthday, 60th anniversary at the Laboratory.
Berni Alder was born in Germany, but was a Swiss citizen. In 1932, his family moved to Zurich, just before Hitler came to power.
In 1941, when he was 16 years old, he fled Switzerland right before the United States entered World War II and took a sealed train through occupied France and then onto Spain and Portugal. There he boarded an American ship headed to the United States.
As he approached his 18th birthday, he was asked to join the Manhattan Project to escape the draft, but the draft board determined he was too young.
Instead of participating in the Manhattan Project, when he turned 18, he joined the U.S. Navy to repair radar for the Pacific fleet in the Philippines.
At the end of WW II, Alder finished his undergraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley in chemistry in 1946. He earned his master's degree in chemical engineering in 1947 and joined the California Institute of Technology in 1948 as a grad student, where he met computer designer Stan Frankel. Using CalTech's mechanical computers, Alder and Frankel developed a computer technique, now called the Monte Carlo method, for calculating results from random sampling.
This is how Alder became a computational pioneer, who over six decades at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has worked on computers to simulate the properties of materials.Later this year, Alder will celebrate his 90th birthday as well as his 60th anniversary at the Lab. The Lab will host a symposium in his honor on Aug. 20.