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In the Mid-1960s, the Laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, a center of scientific computing since the Manhattan Project, embarked on a search for a new supercomputer intended to fulfill the growing need for computing power in nuclear weapons development.

Although depicted at Los Alamos in later years as a smooth transition between vendors, the selection process was a contentious negotiation among computing experts and users over their differing visions of computing and its place at Los Alamos.

In the article “Purchasing Power: Rivalry, Dissent, and Computing Strategy in Supercomputer Selection at Los Alamos,” published in the July-September 2017 issue of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, the authors argue that changing technical and political demands on weapons design and Los Alamos’s place in the rivalry between IBM and Control Data Corporation further complicated the selection process and challenged the traditional control and direction of Los Alamos’s computing strategy.

The result was the formation of a new computing division and a reframing of the debate over the long-standing management and purpose of computing at Los Alamos.