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Harmonic convergence

by Trish Barker

The NCSA building is a hotbed for innovation in the application of advanced computing technologies. In addition to being the home of NCSA, it’s also the headquarters for the Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies (IACAT), the Illinois InformaticsInstitute (I3, or I Cubed), eDream (the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media Institute), and the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (ICHASS).

“These organizations can be thought of as members of an extended family. Having passed its 25th birthday, NCSA is something of a patriarch. ICHASS and eDream both spun off from and have been incubated by the center; IACAT was formed to foster collaborative projects that bring together the center’s technology experts and discipline researchers across campus. I3, the only degree-granting family member, married into the clan; they saw what was gathering here and wanted to be a part of it,” says NCSA Director Thom Dunning.

While each organization has a specific mission, they share a common interest in the transformative potential of advanced technology.

“They’re all focused on one thing, and that’s how do we creatively use advanced computing technologies to address a number of different issues. Whether it’s issues in the humanities and social sciences, whether it’s in media—we’re all involved in basically the same type of endeavor,” Dunning says.

The organizations connect to and collaborate with one another—and because they share a facility, a project can start with something as simple as bumping into a colleague at the communal coffee pot.

“Just having people together in the same location where they can talk on a regular basis, where they run into one another on a regular basis, that is a very positive aspect of the colocation of NCSA and the other institutes,” Dunning says.

Kevin Franklin
Executive director, Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Science

“We each are exploring a different flavor of advanced computing. Colocation supports additional creativity and innovation in the space. It’s a beautiful environment to be in, between the technologists that are in the building and the kind of creative talent that’s represented in I3 and eDream, I can’t think of a better place to be working and for ICHASS to be located.”

“ICHASS is the convergence of humanities and social science with advanced and high-performance computing. Our niche is very unique. There aren’t any other digital humanities centers that are embedded in a supercomputing center. The synergies with NCSA are extremely important. We can establish ad hoc groups that can be pulled into our interdisciplinary teams. That really enhances the work that we’re doing.”

Bill Gropp
Deputy director for research, Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies

“Through programs like the IACAT Fellows we can engage faculty and students across the whole Illinois campus. We’d like to do that in partnership with these other, more specific institutes that are already here,” for example by matching faculty needs with the unique capabilities of the other units or bringing I3 students into collaborative projects.

Donna Cox
Director, eDream and NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory

“We have a common goal to help support and promote creative practice across technology and art. The different institutes are complementary and support different communities. We don’t view our institutes as competitors—rather we strengthen each other’s missions and collaborate across these strengths to write proposals and foster interdisciplinary research.”

“I have been an artist collaborating with scientists here at NCSA since it opened its doors in 1985. eDream was established to help extend this type of creative practice and support unique creative productions. eDream addresses traditional artists’ venues, incorporating new technologies and supporting faculty and visiting artists. ICHASS is complementary, in that it is more focused on the humanities than the arts practice. eDream collaborated with I3 to develop the informatics PhD and support the art and culture concentration. IACAT and eDream converged on a common Creative Computing theme to support faculty and students. These are examples of how the separate institutes collaborate to reinforce their broad interdisciplinary goals.”

Guy Garnett
Director, Illinois Informatics Institute

“We each keep in mind our own separate visions and try to work with the other groups to enhance the overall vision. I3 and eDream are doing all sorts of things together, and it’s sometimes difficult to see what the boundaries are, and that’s a good thing, because it means it’s truly collaborative. We bring together all of the resources and look at how we can support projects” with collaborating faculty and students, “and being colocated makes that much easier.”

“One of the things we’re going to start working out is, can we get NCSA staff teaching not only students but also faculty, bringing in high-performance computing as a tool for various classes really early on. I’m always a believer that if you make it available to them, they’ll figure out how to use it.”

Thom Dunning
Director, National Center for Supercomputing Applications and Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies

“What this collection of institutes is doing provides a signature capability for the University of Illinois. There really isn’t any other university that is doing anything at all like this. Some of them have bits and pieces. But nobody is putting it together the way that we’re putting it together here. And that’s where I think the really big impact will be.”

“[I3, eDream, and ICHASS are] in a building which has a rich history of computing technology. So if an issue or idea comes up, there’s someone they can go to for advice and expertise—here’s this idea, is it technologically feasible? And if it’s not how can we make it feasible? Having the other institutes in this rich environment of computer technologists is valuable. And it exposes NCSA staff to problems that we may not currently be dealing with—our knowledge base is always enriched by looking at different types of problems.”

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