Blue Waters cabinets

Well, as you can probably guess from our name, NCSA is home to supercomputers. These fast, powerful systems are used by scientists and engineers across the country. The people who work at NCSA help these researchers use the supercomputers effectively. NCSA is also a hub of interdisciplinary research.

With microscopes we can observe the very small; with telescopes we can see distant stars. An experiment can determine how chemicals interact. But microscopes and telescopes see only so far. Experimenting with all the myriad combinations of chemicals could take forever (and could lead to dangerously exothermic results—that means explosions!). And some phenomena can't be recreated in a lab—you can't create a model universe in a test tube!

atomic model of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus capsid

That's where computers come in. Researchers have developed mathematical models of the natural world. How do atoms bond and break apart? How do wind speed, temperature, pressure and other variables interact? Supercomputers quickly perform the many complex calculations describing these phenomena and produce data simulating the way molecules move through the wall of a single cell or how a tornado forms.


The supercomputers at NCSA are available to scientists and engineers anywhere in the United States. And you don't have to travel to Urbana-Champaign—researchers access the computers remotely. And while most of the people who use our systems are researchers from universities (including the University of Illinois) and research centers, we also work with many companies through our Private Sector Program.

There is no charge for academic researchers to use NCSA's supercomputers—it's free!

The supercomputers at NCSA (and at several other national centers) are supported by the National Science Foundation in order to give U.S. scientists and engineers the resources they need to develop new treatments for disease, improve forecasting of severe storms, and better understand our world, from the interaction to atoms to the evolution of the universe.

A supercomputer is a fast, powerful computer. Most supercomputer are created by linking the power of many (thousands or hundreds of thousands) of the same type of processors that you would find a laptop or tablet. NCSA once even built a cluster from PlayStation2™ gaming systems!

When NCSA opened in the mid-1980s, our first supercomputer was about as powerful as your current smartphone—that's a measure of how much computer technology has changed in a relatively short time! Today, the most powerful supercomputers, like NCSA's Blue Waters, can perform quadrillions of calculations every second.

As a hub of interdisciplinary research and digital scholarship, NCSA works with many members of the U of I community.

The center’s six research themes are led by campus faculty. If your research relates to Bioinformatics and Health Sciences (C. Victor Jongeneel), Computing and Data Sciences (Gabrielle Allen), Culture and Society (Donna Cox), Earth and Environment (Shaowen Wang), Materials and Manufacturing (Narayana Aluru), or Physics and Astronomy (Athol Kemball), you can contact the appropriate person to learn more.

The NCSA Fellowship program provides seed funding for demonstration or start-up projects, workshops, and/or other activities with the potential to lead to longer-term collaborations around research, development and education. A call for proposals typically goes out early in the spring semester.

Illinois undergraduate students can apply for NCSA's SPIN program, which provides paid internships and hands-on research and development opportunities.

If you have any questions about NCSA’s research and education programs, contact Gabrielle Allen.

NCSA tour

NCSA frequently gives tours to students, teachers, collaborators, and the public. If you would like to arrange a tour for your group, fill out our short online form or contact NCSA Public Affairs: publicaffairs@ncsa.illinois.edu.

NCSA building

NCSA is on the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois. The address is 1205 W. Clark St., Urbana.

The University of Illinois' Willard Airport (CMI) is served by American Airlines.

Other regional airports are: Indianapolis International Airport (IND), Indianapolis, Indiana (120 miles/190 kilometers away); O'Hare International Airport (ORD), Chicago, Illinois (140 miles/220 kilometers away); and Central Illinois Regional Airport (BMI), Bloomington, Illinois (less than 60 miles/100 kilometers away).

You can also reach Champaign-Urbana via Amtrak train or Greyhound bus service.