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FAQ

What does NCSA do?

As you can guess from our name, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (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.

What is a supercomputer?

A supercomputer is a fast, powerful computer. Most supercomputers are created by linking the power of many (thousands or hundreds of thousands) of the same type of processors you would find in 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.

Who can use the supercomputers?

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. 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 Industry Partner Program.

How do scientists use supercomputers?

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. And some phenomena can’t be recreated in a lab – you can’t create a model universe in a test tube!

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.

How much does it cost to use the supercomputers?

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.

How can University of Illinois faculty, staff, post docs, or students work with NCSA?

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

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 Fellowships & Internships contact Senior Assistant Director of Engagement Amanda Lombardo.

Is NCSA open for tours?

As a COVID-19 precaution, tours have been suspended until further notice.

Although not the same as being here in person, here are some links to online resources that will let you see some of what the tour would have covered:

  • Advanced Visualization Laboratory: Learn about AVL and view their work.
  • CADENS: Learn about the documentaries the Advanced Visualization Laboratory has made, and where you can view/download clips and the view/download the entire movie.
  • Blue Waters: Learn more about the Blue Waters supercomputer and see what jobs are running on the machine.
  • Virtual machine room tour: Recorded by Champaign County Visitor’s Bureau in 2016.

Where is NCSA? How do I get there?

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 (CIW) 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.

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