Horst Simon is an internationally recognized expert in computer science and applied mathematics; he recently stepped down as the Deputy Director of Research for Berkeley Lab. During his nearly 26 year career which began with his appointment as division director for NERSC, then associate lab director for Computing Sciences, and then as deputy director, Simon helped establish Berkeley Lab as a world leader in providing supercomputing resources to support research across a wide spectrum of scientific disciplines.
As Deputy Director for Research, Simon managed the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) portfolio. The LDRD fund is the single most important tool the Laboratory Director has to set strategic directions and is considered to be the Lab’s “seed funds for the future.” Throughout Simon’s leadership of the program, LDRD has been a critical component both in the Lab’s execution of its strategic plan and in laying the scientific groundwork for the future work of the Lab. His ability to recognize high-potential projects across the Lab has led to many LDRD proposals, including ALS-U, QIS, NAWI, BioEPIC, and Machine Learning for Science, to grow from proof of principle projects to fully mature – and DOE-funded – programs.
In addition to his funding of projects with early promise, Simon has instituted new programs and projects at the Lab throughout his career. Many of these have been forward-looking initiatives that focus on recruiting and training the workforce the Lab will need in the coming years. One example is his expansion of the LDRD program to include an early career scientist track (EC-LDRD). Since its inception in 2018, a total of 36 young researchers have been awarded this funding, with the vast majority of them continuing their careers at the Lab. To help ensure the continued success of these early career scientists, Simon also established the Early Career Enrichment Program to provide additional support, mentoring, and development opportunities. Managed by the Career Pathways Office – another of Simon’s legacies – these scientists gain the camaraderie of a cohort of peers, the wisdom of senior scientist mentors, and skills offered by a slew of training programs that include how to apply to faculty jobs, write grants, and effectively communicate.
In addition to his attention on early career researchers, Simon worked to increase opportunities for joint faculty recruitment across the UC campuses, and built out the Lab’s leadership group as he led search committees and successfully recruited a number of senior scientists and associate lab directors. Simon’s commitment to finding the right people to lead scientific areas has resulted in a very strong senior leadership cohort that will have an enormously positive impact on the Lab’s strategic direction over the next decade. These leaders are building new cross-Lab capabilities in nearly every scientific area, including artificial intelligence for science and quantum information science and technology. In fact, Simon’s identification and support of high-potential science and researchers has led to the Lab’s leadership in important initiatives within the DOE complex. As one example, his foresight and careful building of the Lab’s capacities in quantum enabled the Lab to fully participate in the larger National Quantum Initiative. As a result of this approach – and the Lab’s outstanding scientists – the Lab was awarded ~$60M of funding.
In his role as one of the 17 national lab chief research officers, he has also been instrumental in raising the Lab’s visibility across the national lab complex. During the “Big Ideas” era of Energy Secretary Moniz, Simon led the Lab’s proposal process and succeeded in advancing five “Big Ideas” (out of a total of nine that were subsequently endorsed). One of these was the “small accelerator” idea which has grown into a mature initiative in Physical Sciences, and the “HEATER” proposal, now part of the energy storage initiative in Energy Technologies. Simon’s work with the “Big Ideas” summit was just one example of his thoughtful stewardship of the Lab’s research. The annual lab plans are full of initiatives that he’s identified as high potential, seeded with LDRD, and then shepherded to maturity.
Simon’s other outward-facing roles include serving for nearly two decades as co-editor of the biannual TOP500 list that tracks the world’s most powerful supercomputers, as well as related architecture and technology trends, and he is often called on by professional societies and the news media as a leading expert in these fields. In addition, he was a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) team that developed the NAS Parallel Benchmarks, which have now become an accepted standard for performance evaluation of massively parallel processing (MPP) systems.
Simon is internationally recognized for his development of parallel computational methods to solve scientific problems of scale. Over the course of his decades-long scientific career – and up to today – Simon has been interested in the development and application of high-performance linear algebra algorithms, performance analysis of high-performance computing architectures, and the assessment of supercomputing technology. He has also contributed significant advancements to the development of sparse matrix algorithms, algorithms for large-scale eigenvalue problems, and domain decomposition algorithms. Further, his recursive spectral bisection algorithm was a major breakthrough in parallel algorithms. In particular, Simon’s work on the Lanczos algorithm became accepted as a powerful tool for finding the eigenvalues and for solving large complex linear systems of equations. His ability to develop well-engineered computational systems that address science at the largest scales, yielding new solutions for state-of-the-art in simulation and analysis, is recognized by more than 23,500 citations of his 150 refereed papers.
As Director Witherell noted, “Simon’s decision to leave what some believe is the best job in the entire UC system comes at a time when, despite recent challenges – including a pandemic – the Lab’s research programs are in excellent shape.” Simon’s legacy includes the identification and nurturing of a number of the Lab’s major research initiatives, and his forward-looking stewardship of people, particularly early career scientists; both will help to build the Lab of the future.