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National Center for Supercomputing Applications

National Center for Supercomputing Applications

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) is one of five original centers in the National Science Foundation's Supercomputer Centers Program and a unit of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The center was founded when a group of University of Illinois faculty, led by Larry Smarr, sent an unsolicited proposal to the National Science Foundation in 1983. The foundation announced funding for the supercomputer centers in 1985; the first supercomputer at the Center came online in January 1986.


Initially, NCSA's administrative offices were housed in the Water Resources Building. NCSA is now headquartered within its own building after being scattered around the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The new NCSA Building is directly north of the Siebel Center for Computer Science, on the site a former baseball field, Illini Field. The Center's array of supercomputers remains housed at the Advanced Computation Building.

NCSA is a unique state-federal partnership to develop and deploy national-scale cyberinfrastructure that advances science and engineering. Support for NCSA comes from the National Science Foundation, the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois, private sector partners, and other federal agencies. NCSA works with universities and colleges, government agencies, companies and schools to discover the benefits of cyberinfrastructure.

Supercomputing capabilities

NCSA provides leading-edge computing, data storage, and visualization resources. NCSA computational and data environment implements a multi-architecture hardware strategy to support high-end users and communities on the architectures best-suited to their requirements. The major computing systems in production at NCSA include four clusters, three of which are for use of the National Science Foundation community, and two shared memory machines, both of which are for use by the NSF community. In 2006, NCSA provided more than 717 million normalized units (NUs) to the NSF research and education community. Nearly 1,360 scientists, engineers and students used the computing and data systems at NCSA to support research in more than 830 projects. A list of NCSA hardware is available at NCSA Capabilities


Since NCSA opened its doors in January 1986, it has fostered an environment of collegial scientific research and interdisciplinary collaboration. NCSA quickly came to the attention of the worldwide scientific community with the release of NCSA Telnet. A number of other tools followed, and like NCSA Telnet, all were made available to everyone at no cost. These and other tools developed at NCSA (most notably NCSA Mosaic) tended to overshadow the scientific research, the very reason for NCSA's existence and the motivation for the development of those tools. Other notable contributions by NCSA were the Black Hole simulations supporting the development of LIGO in 1992, the tracking of the Hale-Bopp Comet in 1997, and the creation of a Playstation 2 Cluster in 2003. NCSA's history of itself can be found here


The Mosaic web browser, the first popular graphical Web browser which played an important part in expanding the growth of the World Wide Web and the Internet, was written by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina at NCSA. Andreessen and Bina went on to develop the Netscape Web browser. Mosaic was later licensed to Spyglass who provided the foundation for Internet Explorer.


NCSA's visualization department is maybe the most well-known sector around the country and world. Donna Cox, leader of the Visualization Division at NCSA and a professor in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her team have thrilled millions of people with visualizations for the Oscar-nominated IMAX film "Cosmic Voyage," the PBS NOVA episodes "Hunt for the Supertwister" and "Runaway Universe," as well as Discovery Channel documentaries and pieces for CNN and NBC Nightly News. Cox and NCSA worked with the American Museum of Natural History to produce high-resolution visualizations for the Hayden Planetarium's 2000 Millennium show, "Passport to the Universe," and for "The Search for Life: Are We Alone?" She produced visualizations for the Hayden's "Big Bang Theatre" and is currently working with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to produce high-resolution data-driven visualizations of terabytes of scientific data for a digital dome program on black holes.

Thom Dunning, Director

Thom Dunning, the Director of NCSA, has a long list of achievements and leadership positions within different technological groups across the country. Dunning studied as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri–Rolla, and went on to earn a PhD at the California Institute of Technology. He later went on to work at the University of Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the United States Department of Energy and the Argonne National Laboratory.    

Private Business Partners

Referred to as the Industrial Partners program when it began in 1986, NCSA's collaboration with major corporations ensured that its expertise and emerging technologies would be relevant to major challenges outside of the academic world, as those challenges arose. Business partners had no control over research or the disposition of its results, but they were well-situated to be early adopters of any benefits of the research. The program is now called the Private Sector Program.

Past and current business partners include:

  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Exxon Mobil
  • FMC Corporation
  • Ford
  • IBM
  • Innerlink
  • John Deere
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Kellogg
  • Kodak
  • McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing)
  • Motorola
  • Phillips Petroleum Company
  • Schlumberger
  • Sears, Roebuck and Company
  • Shell Oil
  • State Farm
  • Tribune Company
  • United Technologies
  • See also

    External links


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