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Walter Karplus, 74; UCLA Computer Scientist

November 17, 2001|From a Times Staff Writer

Walter J. Karplus, a computer scientist who taught at UCLA for more than 40 years, died Sunday after a long battle with cancer. He was 74.

Karplus was interim dean of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science at the Westwood campus, where his previous posts included chairman of the computer science department, head of the computer simulation laboratory and director of the Center for Experimental Computer Science.

He was known for pioneering research that included a project employing virtual reality to allow doctors to observe the flow of blood through aneurysms deep within the brain.

He also was principal investigator on a project to optimize the comprehension of large volumes of audio information. That project was aimed at helping air traffic controllers, pilots, surgeons and others who must make rapid decisions while confronted with an often cacophonous flow of information.

Karplus also was a prolific author, whose writings include "The Heavens Are Falling: The Scientific Prediction of Catastrophes in Our Time." The 1992 book examined eight situations that some consider catastrophic, including the greenhouse effect, the AIDS epidemic and overpopulation, and found that faulty computer predictions had caused undue fear of the problems.

"It's not correct to say all of this is bunk, but calling everything a catastrophe does the public a disservice," he told an interviewer several years ago.

Born in Vienna, Karplus served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1946 before earning an undergraduate degree at Cornell University in 1949. He received a master's at UC Berkeley in 1951 and a PhD at UCLA in 1955.

He is survived by his wife, Takako, and two children, Maya and Tony. A campus memorial is scheduled for 3 p.m. Nov. 25 at the James West Alumni Center. The family asks that any donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

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