Goad, Walter B.

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From his roots in the red clay soil of rural Georgia during the Depression, Walter Goad went on to a distinguished career in two disparate fields: nuclear weapons design and bioinformatics. Having lived in various towns in Georgia and graduating from Grainger High School in Kinston, N.C., in 1942, Goad set out to become a radio technician and expand his horizons by heading north for the first time. As would be true throughout his early years, his experience would be brief, but fruitful. Shortly after accepting a position with a station in Schenectady, N.Y., Goad was taken under the wing of his employer, who steered him toward college, helping arrange a scholarship at nearby Union College to make it all possible.

With America's entry in the Second World War, however, Goad's college plans changed. At the end of his freshman year, when he became eligible for the draft, Goad enlisted in the Navy and earned a spot in the V-12 officers' training program. The program allowed Goad, along with a small number of other candidates that included Baruch Blumberg, to continue toward his B.S. in physics, which he was awarded in the spring of 1945, just as the war was ending in Europe. His subsequent military career was nearly as brief as his career in radio. After an additional four months of training at midshipman's school in Annapolis, Goad was detached to the Pacific to complete his military obligation aboard a submarine chaser. By the following spring, his service was no longer needed, and he returned home to enter the University of California, Berkeley, as one of the horde of returning veterans pursuing a graduate degree in physics. The departure of Robert Oppenheimer later that year, however, took the luster off of Berkeley and as the appeal of the overtaxed program waned, Goad decided to transfer to Duke to work under the up and coming Lothar Nordheim on a project eventually titled A Theoretical Study of Extensive Cosmic Ray Air Showers (1954).

Yet again, Goad's path shifted. During the Spring 1950, Nordheim took a leave of absence to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, inviting Goad to accompany him and complete his dissertation in New Mexico. Assigned to work with the Theoretical Division, Goad's first priority was to complete his dissertation, but he rapidly became a valued member of the design team working on the hydrogen bomb (he witnessed the first test on Eniwetok (Enewetak) Atoll in November 1952), and except for two sabbatical years, never again left the Laboratory. Goad's association with Los Alamos was personal, as well as professional: in 1952, he met and married Maxine Steineke, a graduate student in physics from Stanford working at the Laboratory with whom he had three children.

Although Goad's residence was firmly settled, his intellectual interests gradually evolved. By the early 1960s, he and a small number of colleagues at Los Alamos began to take up an interest in the emerging field of molecular biology. Spending a sabbatical year at the University of Colorado medical school (1964-1965) to strengthen his knowledge of the field, Goad began to apply himself to the challenges posed by the rapid accumulation of nucleic acid data, and after another sabbatical at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England (1970-1971), he turned his full efforts to molecular research. When George Bell created group T-10 at Los Alamos (Theoretical Biology and Biophysics) in 1974, Goad became one of its charter members.

To molecular biology, Goad brought a suite of quantitative skills and a strong knowledge of computing. As early as the late 1960s, he made efforts to address the problems associated with the storage, retrieval, and analysis of molecular data, conceiving of the computer as a central tool for collaborative and analytical work in molecular biology. Following a 1979 meeting at the Rockefeller University to discuss how these data could be managed and exploited, Goad and his Los Alamos colleagues established the Los Alamos Sequence Data Bank and began to develop software for sequence analysis. Goad conceived of expanding the database nationally and internationally.

With funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), among other agencies, the core facility at Los Alamos was expanded in collaboration with Bolt, Baranek, and Newman (BBN, the firm that had handled the construction of ARPANet in the late 1960s), and in 1982, the database was rechristened GenBank. The base of its operations remained at Los Alamos, as it was operated successively under the control of BBN (1982-1987), IntelliGenetics (1987-1992), and (since 1992) the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Goad also helped to establish a strong working relationship with parallel efforts in Europe (the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, EMBL) and Japan (DNA Database of Japan, DDBJ).

The success of GenBank in turn laid much of the groundwork for the Human Genome Project which followed in the late 1980s and 1990s. Begun formally in 1990 as an effort to identify, map, and sequence all of the genes in the human genome, the Human Genome Project benefited both conceptually and practically from GenBank, and Goad was an early member of the the Human Genome Advisory Panel.

For his efforts on behalf of GenBank, Goad received a Los Alamos National Laboratory Distinguished Service Award, and the Laboratory bestowed its highest honor, making him a Laboratory Fellow. He was also a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Walter Goad died of a stroke in Santa Fe on November 2, 2000.

From the guide to the Walter Goad Papers, 1942-2000, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Walter Goad Papers, 1942-2000 American Philosophical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Altman, Sidney, 1939- person
associatedWith Bell, George I. person
associatedWith Bitensky, Mark person
associatedWith Blumberg, Baruch S., 1925- person
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associatedWith Brutlag, Douglas person
associatedWith Burks, Christian person
associatedWith Cantor, Charles R. person
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associatedWith Comings, David E. person
associatedWith Dayhoff, Margaret O. person
associatedWith European Molecular Biology Laboratory corporateBody
associatedWith Federal Bureau of Investigation corporateBody
associatedWith Fickett, James W. person
associatedWith Fitch, Walter M. person
associatedWith GenBank corporateBody
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associatedWith Goad, Maxine S. person
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associatedWith Jordan, Elke person
associatedWith Kanehisa, Minoru person
associatedWith Lee, Wen Ho person
associatedWith Lerman, Leonard person
associatedWith Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. corporateBody
associatedWith Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, Mass.). corporateBody
associatedWith Maxam, Allan M. person
associatedWith Moyzis, Robert K. person
associatedWith Puck, Theodore T., (Theodore Thomas), 1916-2005 person
associatedWith Roberts, Richard J. person
associatedWith Smith, Temple F. person
associatedWith Teller, Edward, 1908-2003 person
associatedWith Wada, Akiyoshi person
Place Name Admin Code Country


Birth 1925

Death 2000


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