Summary Biographical Information on William H. Press

last updated December, 2021

William H. Press is a computer scientist and computational biologist with broad interests in the physical and biological sciences. An experienced manager in both university and national laboratory settings, he is widely recognized for his academic and research accomplishments.

Press is the Leslie Surginer Professor of Computer Science and Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, his affiliations include membership in the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences and in the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology. Press is also a Senior Fellow (emeritus) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. From 2009 to 2017, Press was a member of President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and was reappointed to this White House council by President Biden in 2021. Press is a past (2012-2013) president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is currently the elected Treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences and is a member of the Governing Board of the National Research Council.

In his research career, Press has published more than 160 papers in areas of computational biology, theoretical astrophysics, cosmology, and computational algorithms. He is senior author of the Numerical Recipes textbooks on scientific computing, with more than 400,000 hardcover copies in print. Elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1994, he in 2000 became a founding member of NAS's Computer and Information Sciences section. His current research is in genomics and high-throughput experiments in biology.

Press was for more than two decades Professor of Astronomy and of Physics at Harvard University, during which he served as Department Chair and in various other positions of university service. He taught graduate and undergraduate courses in three departments (physics, astronomy, and applied mathematics), as well as in interdisciplinary university programs. Press was an affiliate of the Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, and was for more than 10 years a resident faculty member in Pforzheimer House, an undergraduate residential House of 400 students. His Ph.D. and postdoctoral students have gone on to tenure at universities including UC Berkeley, Princeton, Brown, Johns Hopkins, UCSC, University of Michigan, and Ohio State, and have won prizes/awards including Shaw, MacArthur, Breakthrough, and Nobel.

From 1998 to 2004, Press was Deputy Laboratory Director for Science and Technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Serving two successive Laboratory Directors, Press' responsibilities at various times included all aspects of managing an R&D organization with an annual budget of $2.0B, employing more than 12,000 people. Significant responsibilities included relations with governmental sponsors and Congressional liason; resource and indirect cost allocation; community and Tribal relations; environment, safety, and health; and workforce issues, particularly those affecting the Laboratory's 4000 technical staff members.

As Deputy Laboratory Director, Press had direct responsibility for ensuring the scientific quality of the Laboratory's technical programs. He was personally responsible for the strategic allocation of all internal R&D funds (about $107M in FY 2004); oversaw institutional initiatives on scientific and technical staff recruitment and retention; chartered and appointed more than 25 outside review committees for the Lab's divisions; guided the Laboratory's relationship in academic matters with its parent institution, the University of California; and had line management responsibility for functions including the Joint [with two other national laboratories] Genome Institute, and LANL's projectized construction work (some $200M) in the national Spallation Neutron Source project. Press was responsible for the creation of a new Biosciences Division at Los Alamos, comprising now more than 300 staff members.

Press serves on the Board of Directors of the Simons Foundation (New York). He is a Trustee of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), where his responsibilities include board oversight of IDA's three Divisions working in the areas of cybersecurity, cryptography, and advanced computing. He is a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a long-time member of the JASON Study Group, and its past Chair. He is a past co-Chair of the Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications of the National Research Council (NRC), as well as a variety of other boards and committees.

At the time of his arrival at Harvard in 1976, Press was its youngest tenured professor. Earlier, he was Assistant Professor of Physics at Princeton University, and Richard Chace Tolman Research Fellow in Theoretical Physics at Caltech, where he received his Ph.D. in physics in 1972. His undergraduate degree was from Harvard in 1969.

Married, Press has two adult children and lives in Austin, Texas, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. He was born May 23, 1948, and raised in Pasadena, California.


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