Computational scientist and LLNL Distinguished Member of Technical Staff Scott Kohn is truly part of LLNL Computing history. In 1997, he joined the Lab as one of the first external hires into the Center for Applied Scientific Computing (CASC), Computing’s primary research and academic outreach organization.  

Kohn was a postdoc at the University of California at San Diego when fate – by way of LLNL – came calling. He was hired on in CASC as principal investigator of the SAMRAI project, a code base still going strong today that explores application, numerical, parallel computing, and software issues associated with structured adaptive mesh refinement.

Kohn’s career choice was a natural one; computers captured his interest at a young age. “I was never a gaming guy, but I liked learning about computers, learning how they worked, and making them do my bidding, even back when 64KB was a lot of memory,” he says.

As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Kohn majored in electrical engineering but most enjoyed courses centered around numerical analysis and using computers to solve physics problems. So when it came time to chart his graduate school course, he chose to major in computer science with a focus on scientific computing. “I was particularly interested in how to parallelize scientific codes on massively parallel supercomputers, which at the time meant something like 32 or 64 processors,” Kohn says.

Six years into his CASC job, Kohn left the Lab to join a biotech start-up company as director of information technology. He returned one year later, lured back by the Lab’s breadth of interesting problems and the mission.

“The Lab’s mission really resonates with me. It always has and it still does,” says Kohn. “It’s important to me to feel that I’m contributing to important national problems. I also like the fact that I’m constantly learning something new, reading the latest papers, and applying new approaches to help solve real issues.”

Soon after “boomeranging back” to LLNL, Kohn was part of the team that received an R&D100 award for Babel, a framework for enabling different software components written in different languages to interoperate.

For the past fifteen years, Kohn has worked in Global Security supporting LLNL’s cyber security research program. He has led teams in cyber security and advanced computing technologies and has chaired committees for the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program. For his many leadership and technical contributions, Kohn was elevated to the level of Distinguished Member of Technical Staff —LLNL’s highest technical job classification level—in 2022.

While some people might find a decade and a half supporting the same program to be monotonous, Kohn continues to be motivated by Global Security’s myriad and ever-changing challenges. “Often, one of the biggest challenges is understanding the problem itself,” he says. “Sponsors come to us with a problem, and we need to understand and characterize the technical issues before we can begin to identify what solution approaches are feasible with current technology.”

Outside of work, Kohn describes his family as “a bunch of museum and classical music nerds.” He and his wife recently returned from a performance tour of Prague, Vienna, and Budapest with his son’s youth orchestra. “It was pretty cool to visit the same performance halls and homes of composers like Haydn, Mozart, Liszt, and Dvorzak,” he says. Also keeping the Kohn home lively are the two family cats. Kohn says, “They’re both way smarter than I am, and they regularly manipulate me to do their bidding.”

—Deanna Willis