Remembering the First Female ANS Fellow – Margaret Butler

By Linda Zec

As we come to a completion of Women’s History Month, we at the American Nuclear Society would like to celebrate one of our own Women in History – the first female ANS Fellow, Margaret Butler.

Margaret ButlerMargaret was a groundbreaking professional who made a name for herself in both computer science and nuclear energy. She was also active in supporting women in science and engineering during her career. In an interview (date unknown) in Science, Technology and Health Care, Margaret’s advice to young women was to get a good education that includes “plenty” of math and science. She also encouraged them to treat everyone as an individual and to not be afraid to speak up for what is right.

Margaret’s educational pursuits and mathematical abilities led to a lifetime of scientific contributions at a time when research and development (R&D) was a male-dominated area. She is representative of what tenacious women scientists have become, especially against the odds.

Margaret Butler Press Release

ANS Press Release from June 20, 1972, regarding Margaret Butler’s elevation to ANS Fellow.

Her ANS Fellowship nomination was made in 1971 by five colleagues, all male. She became the first woman ANS Fellow in June 1972. Margaret joined ANS in 1959 and served as chair and vice chair of the ANS Mathematical and Computation Division. She was also a member of the ANS Nomination, Standards, and Publication Committees.

Born in 1924 in Indiana, Margaret was educated at Indiana University in Bloomington and pursued an education in statistics and differential calculus, graduating in 1944. After graduation, she worked for the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), later switching to a civilian job within the U.S armed forces. In 1948, she was hired as a junior mathematician in the Naval Reactors Division for Argonne National Laboratory (ANL).

In 1949, the BLS requested Margaret return to work on a special two-year project. In 1951, upon completion of the assignment, she made a final return to ANL where she became an assistant mathematician in the Reactor Engineering Division. She was named leader of the Reactor Computing Group several years later.

Margaret led the Applications Programming Section of ANL’s Applied Mathematics Division from 1959 to 1965, during which she was responsible for the organization and the operation of the Argonne Code Center, which would later become a part of the National Energy Software Center (NESC), a software exchange and information center for the U.S. Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

She was a consultant to the European Nuclear Energy Agency during the time it was establishing its computer program. Margaret became the director of NESC in 1972, a position she held until her retirement in 1991. From 1993 through 2006, she continued to work as a special-term appointee for ANL.

Together with other pioneering women scientists, she helped form the Chicago Area Chapter of the Association for Women in Science.

Margaret Butler passed away March 8, 2013, one day after her 89th birthday, but her legacy as the first female ANS Fellow will serve as a model for generations of women scientists to come.


Linda ZecLinda Zec is the Online Communications Specialist for the American Nuclear Society, as well as the editor of the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

5 thoughts on “Remembering the First Female ANS Fellow – Margaret Butler

  1. Laural Briggs

    Argonne will be holding the second annual Margaret Butler Celebration of Women in Computational Science & Nuclear Engineering on Monday, June 6. This symposium honors Margaret’s exceptional career at Argonne and her many groundbreaking achievements while showcasing her legacy of women who are currently advancing the fields of computational science and nuclear engineering.

  2. Enrico Sartori

    Margaret Butler has played a key role when establishing the Computer Program Services (CPL) of the OECD NEA (formerly ENEA), now integrated in the Data Bank, in particular as concerns the cooperation with the USA and the exchange arrangements. She was the Head of the Argonne Code Center (ACC), later renamed National Energy Software Center (NESC) until 1991.
    In fact, Margaret Butler and her husband Jim Butler contributed their experience and know-how acquired in the setting up the Argonne Code Center. As early as 1965 a “Co-operation arrangement between USAEC and the OECD/[E]NEA for the Exchange of Nuclear Data and connected Information and Computer Program Packages Pertinent to Nuclear Science and Technology” was agreed encompassing nuclear cross-sections bibliographic references, microscopic nuclear cross-section data, evaluated sets of nuclear cross-section data, computer program packages pertinent to nuclear science and technology (in particular reactor codes and radiation shielding codes), and publications.
    The CPL had adopted the same standards for packaging computer code information as defined by the US Code Center thus facilitating the exchange of information. She has visited on many occasions the CPL when located in Ispra (Italy) and later the Data Bank at Saclay (France). She had also established regular seminars gathering code developers and users in the nuclear energy applications, thus creating a real dynamics for the release of new computer codes and for their development.
    Much of the success of the CPL was due to this close co-operation.

  3. Dan Meneley

    Margaret helped me decipher arcane control language and other bits of early FORTRAN mysteries, many times while I worked in the Reactor Engineering and Reactor Physics Division from 1963 to 1972. She was always smart and professional.

  4. Mark Sivazlian

    Thanks Linda, for your article on this fascinating pioneer. I usually don’t dive into the Nuke Café articles. Glad I did this time! Nice work.

  5. Gene Wachspress

    I knew Margaret well. I was chair of the M&C division for a couple of years. I have many fond memories.