Photo of Berni Alder

Berni Alder

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences
For establishing powerful computer methods useful for molecular dynamics simulations, conceiving and executing experimental shock-wave simulations to obtain properties of fluids and solids at very high pressures, and developing Monte Carlo methods for calculating the properties of matter from first principles, all of which contributed to major achievements in the science of condensed matter.

Berni Alder on luck

In the 1950s – a time when behemoth computers occupied entire rooms – Berni Alder saw the potential for more than just quick calculations.

A consultant at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Alder competed with the weapons teams and other scientists for precious time on a few of the world’s only supercomputers to solve his problems of physics – including how particles move.

Considered to be the inventor of molecular dynamics, Alder developed the Monte Carlo methods, which use computers to apply results from random sampling to reproduce the behavior of atoms and molecules.

Today, Alder’s techniques are widely used across biology, physics and other fields.

“It certainly exceeded any expectation I had to how far we could go and how big the computers would get,” he said. “In the early days, we could do 100 particles in one hour on the Univac. Now, we can now do a trillion particles in an hour.”