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Dunning to retire as NCSA director in 2013

After nearly eight years at the helm of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Thom H. Dunning Jr. has announced that he will retire as the center’s director in 2013. He will remain as NCSA’s leader until the University of Illinois completes a national search for his successor and then plans to continue as a professor in the University’s Department of Chemistry.

“My career has been blessed by its association with creative, innovative colleagues who are dedicated to excellence,” said Dr. Dunning. “The past eight years at NCSA have been both remarkable and rewarding. I am confident that NCSA will continue this tradition of excellence far into the future.”

“With wisdom and vision, Thom Dunning has successfully piloted NCSA through a period of great change,” said Illinois’ Vice Chancellor for Research Peter Schiffer. “The center has successfully transitioned to a grant-driven funding model, has increased collaboration with other campus units and colleagues, and has embarked on long-term strategic planning efforts designed to position the center for future success.”

During Dunning’s tenure, NCSA continued to fulfill its primary mission, providing the computing power and expertise required for breakthrough research in science and engineering as well as many other fields. NCSA has also been exploring other innovative uses of advanced computing technologies, a recognition that such technologies now lie at the heart of many research advances.

“Thom Dunning is the epitome of a scholar and a gentlemen. He is one of the most humble and accomplished computational scientists in America. NCSA and UI have prospered greatly during his leadership tenure, having won two of the most critical cyberinfrastructure grants in the nation.”

John Melchi, NCSA senior associate director for Administration

In the past eight years, NCSA has attracted more than $394 million in federal grant funding. NCSA is currently leading the two largest computing projects ever funded by the National Science Foundation: the Blue Waters project and the Extreme Science & Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) project. NCSA will process and hold the data for both the Dark Energy Survey project, which just recently captured “first light” with its 570-megapixel camera in Chile, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project, which is under consideration for funding by the National Science Foundation.

In the Institute for Chemistry Literacy through Computational Science, an NSF-funded Math & Science Partnership project, NCSA has shown how the use of computational tools and simulations can improve high school education. The center has also increased its role in preparing the next-generation of researchers through the Virtual School of Computational Science and Engineering. Finally, NCSA recently began work, funded by the state of Illinois, on the Illinois Shared Learning Environment, which will support teaching, learning, and research in schools across Illinois.

Dunning spearheaded the creation of the Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies to foster increased collaboration among NCSA’s technology experts and discipline researchers across the Urbana-Champaign campus. Projects in IACAT range from computational modeling of physical and biological systems to the development of advanced information systems for sensor networks and the innovative uses of computing in the arts and humanities. He also supported the creation of the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Science (I-CHASS) and eDream (the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media Institute).

He oversaw both the move of the center’s 200+ staff into the newly constructed NCSA Building and the construction of the National Petascale Computing Facility. The latter is an energy efficient, LEED-certified Gold state-of-the-art data center, the only one of its capability on a university campus in the world.

“During Thom’s tenure and leadership, NCSA has moved through a very tenuous time to being as strong as it has ever been. The nature of the funding that NCSA has counted on during its early years has completely changed. The way NCSA manages its internal operations has significantly changed. The way NCSA actively collaborates with various disciplinary communities, including industry and our international partners, is dramatically different. All of these have been managed effectively, with NCSA now finding itself in a uniquely strong position. We owe Thom a lot, and will miss him immensely, but he is leaving through a well thought through process that will allow Illinois and NCSA to have plenty of time to find the right person to lead us into the next phase—and he is leaving the new director-to‚Äìbe with an arsenal of resources and strengths that will be very valuable in continuing to move NCSA forward successfully.”

Danny Powell, NCSA executive director

Dunning came to the University of Ilinois in 2004. He previously held leadership positions at the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of North Carolina System, the Office of Science at the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was instrumental in creating DOE’s Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program, the federal government’s first comprehensive program aimed at developing the software infrastructure needed for leadership-class scientific computing.

He is a fellow of the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dunning received the U.S. Department of Energy’s E. O. Lawrence Award in Chemistry in 1997 and the American Chemical Society’s Computers in Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research Award in 2011. Through his career, Dr. Dunning never lost his interest in and passion for molecular science. His research group in the Department of Chemistry focuses on the use of state-of-the-art computational approaches to understand and predict the structure, energetics and reactivity of molecules. His team has recently published work indicating that a previously unknown type of chemical bond is responsible for the stability of hypervalent molecules.

Dunning is NCSA’s fourth director. Larry Smarr led the center from its inception in 1985 to 2000, Dan Reed from 2000-2003, and current NCSA Chief Technology Officer Rob Pennington served as interim director in 2004.

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