When I was looking for the right graduate program in astronomy during the spring of 1996, I only visited three places. Texas was the last of the three, and my visit was only a few days before the universal deadline for making a decision on where to go. I formed my first impression of Ed Nather and Don Winget while we ate lunch and talked in the WET lab during my visit. By the end of our discussion, I knew I would come to Texas and work with them.
Thanks to the unwavering support of my advisers, I am the first of my class to finish. Only four of my ten original classmates are still working toward their Ph.D.; If not for Ed and Don, I might not have continued in the program myself. I feel a great sense of privilege for having learned to be an astronomer from them. The world needs more scientists like Ed Nather and Don Winget.
In addition to our experiences in the lab, I had the pleasure of helping Ed in the classroom during his last three years of teaching. If I ever find myself in a position to teach, I will certainly aspire to be as good as Ed. By my second year as a teaching assistant for him, Ed said that I didn't need to attend the lectures anymore, but I continued going because I was getting as much out of them as the students. Besides, it allowed me to get out of our prison-like building at least a few times a week. Some of the best conversations I've had with Ed took place during our walks over to the Welch Hall classroom.
While developing the metacomputer described in this dissertation I sought advice and help from Mark Cornell, Bill Spiesman, and Gary Hansen--who also arranged for the donation of 32 computer processors from AMD. The software development owes thanks to Mike Montgomery, Paul Bradley, Matt Wood, Steve Kawaler, Peter Diener, Peter Hoeflich, and especially Paul Charbonneau and Barry Knapp for providing me with an unreleased improved version the PIKAIA genetic algorithm. I thank S.O. Kepler, Craig Wheeler, Atsuko Nitta and Scott Kleinman for helpful discussions, and Maurizio Salaris for providing me with data files of white dwarf internal chemical profiles.
There are many other people who influenced me in earlier stages of my career, and my dissertation project owes a debt to all of them. I'd like to thank Terry Bressi and Andrew Tubbiolo for getting me started with Linux in 1994. Brad Castalia was the first to suggest PVM to me for parallel computing, and Joe Lazio introduced me to genetic algorithms. I thank Ray White, Rob Jedicke, Dave Latham, Jim Cordes, Don McCarthy, Andrea Ghez, Todd Henry, Ted Bowen and Patrick McGuire for their part in helping me to become a good scientist.
My interest in astronomy was inspired by Darla Casey and Bonnie Osbourne, and was nurtured by Brian Montgomery, Rick Letherer, and Ed Fitzpatrick. I also owe thanks to my parents and the rest of my family in Oregon, who always believed in me and never questioned my sometimes impractical decisions. Finally, I'd like to thank Cherie Goff for helping me to maintain my sanity when times were tough, and for being the ideal companion the rest of the time.
I am grateful to the High Altitude Observatory Visiting Scientist Program for fostering this project in a very productive environment for two months during the summer of 2000. This work was supported by grant NAG5-9321 from the Applied Information Systems Research Program of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, and in part by grants AST 98-76730 and AST 93-15461 from the National Science Foundation.