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Dr. Carol M. Newton

Year of Birth / Death

1925 - 2014

Medical School

University of Chicago School of Medicine



Career Path

Internal medicine: Oncology
Education: Medical informatics
Education: Teaching
Dr. Carol M. Newton


Dr. Carol Newton developed the first computer program to calculate electron therapy treatments, the Univac I, C-10 Code.
Dr. Carol Newton was a founding fellow of the American Institute of Biological and Medical Engineering and a fellow in the American College of Medical Informatics.


As I neared completion of my doctorate in high-energy physics, I saw articles that strongly attracted me to new frontiers in medicine and biology that invited mathematically-supported research. I sought in-depth preparation to move to those frontiers. Medical training had the advantages of comprehensive coverage of various biological fields, and of preparing me to move the results of my research directly into medical applications, my area of primary interest. In medical school, internship, and start of an internal medicine residency, I developed a love for clinical practice—which, alas, I have not had time to pursue further.


In 1958, Dr. Carol Newton developed Univac I, C-10 Code, the first computer program to calculate electron therapy treatment. Later, as chairman and professor of Biomathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Newton developed interactive graphics for scientific investigation and cellular-system modeling. A pioneer in the field of medical informatics for over four decades, Dr. Newton has blended the arts of medicine, mathematics and computer science.

Carol M. Newton was born in Oakland, California, in 1925. Receiving her undergraduate degree in physics from Stanford University in 1947, she remained there to earn her Ph.D. in high-energy physics. Wanting to apply her mathematically-supported research directly to medical applications, she then enrolled in medical school at the University of Chicago. As a medical student, she worked as an associate scientist at the university's Argonne Cancer Research Hospital and was among the first to investigate the use of analog computers in biological sciences. Receiving her M.D. in 1960, Dr. Newton went on to an internship at the University of Chicago's Billings Hospital.

In 1963 Dr. Newton began her teaching career as assistant professor in both medicine and mathematical biology at the University of Chicago. In 1967 she returned to California as associate professor of the Department of Biomathematics and assistant director of the Health Sciences Computing Facility for the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine. Remaining there throughout the rest of her career, Dr. Newton was professor of radiological sciences and biomathematics and chaired the Department of Biomathematics from 1974 through 1985. Her software developments and research have included cellular modeling related to cancer, hematopoiesis (the production of blood cells), interactive graphics software, and new methods of representing complex data sets. She has also contributed to the development of the graphic projection of three-dimensional structures that move according to changes in the viewer's head position.

In the 1960s Dr. Newton served on the National Institutes of Health's Computer Research Study Section. She was later named to the institute's Advisory Committee to the Director and the National Task Force on the National Institutes of Health's Strategic Plan. She was also a member of the National Library of Medicine Board of Regents, which she chaired from 1995 to 1996. Dr. Newton has served on various boards for both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation. She was associate editor for both Mathematical Biosciences and the Annual Reviews of Biophysics and Bioengineering and on the editorial boards of the Modeling Methodology Forum, American Journals of Physiology, Journal of Applied Physiology, Journal of Neurophysiology, and Computers and Mathematics with Application, an International Journal. A fellow in the first class named to the American College of Medical Informatics, Dr. Newton was a founding fellow of the American Institute of Biological and Medical Engineering.

Dr. Newton was committed to teaching and mentoring until her death in 2014. Even after her retirement from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine in 2007, she remained on active recall, and taught classes and contributed to the medical school's student programs. Dr. Newton received the David Geffen School of Medicine Award for Excellence in Education in 2012. Her commitment to teaching and mentoring will remain one of her main legacies.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

My greatest obstacle was the first semester of medical school. Memorization !! There is little memorization in mathematics or physics, and I had minimal biological preparation for medical school. I really struggled through the first semester. Then it all began to make sense. I then had a basic framework of biological knowledge to build upon; new facts were no longer isolated. (I have shared this with mathematicians entering our biomathematics doctoral program, of whom substantial graduate-level training in a biomedical specialty was required. They had similar experiences. One can have both a "mathematical mind" and a "biological mind.")

How do I make a difference?

Along with excellent collaborators, I have especially enjoyed innovating some interactive graphics software for biomedical applications and developing a doctoral program whose students achieve substantial graduate-level expertise in both mathematics and a biomedical specialty. I also hope that, during the Cold War, along with other scientists, I was able to make a modest contribution to nurturing East-West relationships, in Yugoslavia and via the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Who was my mentor?

I have had several mentors. In physics at Stanford University, I was privileged to work with Professor Paul Kirkpatrick for my M.S. degree, and Professor W. K. H. Panofsky, for my Ph.D. At the University of Chicago, I had many wonderful mentors during my medical training, and Professor Robert Hasterlik was supportive to my professional development then and thereafter.

How has my career evolved over time?

University of Chicago radiotherapists had just acquired a smaller medical version of the linear electron accelerator I worked on at Stanford for the first production of pi mesons by electrons. Treatment-planning calculations for electron therapy were very time-consuming. In 1958, I heard about a Univac I computer on campus and wrote a machine-language program for electron treatment planning. I explored other computer applications on it then and during the internship.

After the internship, I undertook my internal medicine residency at the University of Chicago on a part-time basis, while accepting a job as Co-Investigator for the new National Institutes of Health-supported Biological Sciences Computation Center. Soon it was clear that I couldn't do both, so I deferred the residency, joined the faculty, and pursued both research and the development of interests in and infrastructure for bringing mathematics and computation into biology and medicine. Among research pursued were model-based studies of stem-cell theory and erythropoiesis, optimal placement of detectors for determining the whole-body content of a labeled substance, and a study on calcium metabolism that employed the latter.

While at Chicago, I was appointed to NIH's Computer Research Study Section, which brought me in contact with pioneers on a variety of frontiers where mathematics, statistics, informatics, and computing were advancing research and design in biology and medicine. I now could see and feel that this indeed was my calling. And so it has remained.

I joined the University of California at Los Angeles's Department of Biomathematics in 1967 and was assistant director, under Wilfred Dixon, of its NIH-supported Health Sciences Computing Facility (HSCF). At HSCF, an innovative operating system developed by Dr. Patricia Britt, the Terminal-Oriented Real-Time Operating System (TORTOS), opened the door to IBM mainframe-empowered interactive graphics applications. My software development and research using the latter addressed such things as cellular modeling related to cancer and hematopoiesis, interactive graphics software and new methods of representation for exploration of complex data sets, interactive parallax (varying the projection of a three-dimensional structure on the screen in correlation with changes in the viewer's head position), and radiation treatment planning (implant, external beam). My radiotherapy collaborator, Dr. Richard Nelson, moved to the East Coast shortly after software was developed here for an intelligent graphics terminal, the IMLAC, to expedite interactions over slow, dial-up telephone lines. I adapted my programs to take advantage of that, and our work together continued.

Around 1973, our faculty undertook the ambitious goal of developing a doctoral program whose graduates would have doctoral-level expertise in a biological specialty, or M.D. training. To aid pursuit of the realistically complex biological modeling that such knowledge enables, substantial graduate mathematics training was required and computing skills, developed. To share in this effort and see the contributions of our graduates has brought great joy.

After the Health Sciences Computing Facility closed, I continued my research in biomedical computing on IBM mainframes and personal computers, including treatment optimization, a graphics system to navigate a richly branched pedigree tree to display both categorical and scalar data for each person, and easy-to-use software for setting up and exploring differential equation models. Only in recent years have interactive graphics software supports attained the sophistication of what was available at HSCF. I now will carry forward some of that work.

Among activities away from the campus, I would select participation on various National Institutes of Health committees and involvement in collaborative programs during the cold war that brought scientists together from both East and West to have been most fulfilling.

National Library of Medicine