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What a difference a year makes.

Since publicly announcing Illinois Computes on April 5, 2023, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications has ramped up the program, which offers computing and data storage resources, technical expertise and support services to researchers from all domains across the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus – and seen tremendous growth.

More than 230 new research projects have utilized different computing or data systems under the NCSA portfolio, nearly 300 separate support requests have been answered and researchers from 10 of the distinct UIUC colleges have leveraged Illinois Computes to advance their work.

“Illinois Computes is something we’ve been discussing with NCSA and campus leadership for more than half a decade and to finally be able to announce a launch last year was tremendously exciting. On top of that, seeing so many positive outcomes after only a year is astounding,” NCSA Director Bill Gropp said. “A lot of work – on scales both large and small – has gone into lifting Illinois Computes off the ground and I’m so very proud of everyone involved who has enthusiastically solved problems, kept us moving forward and steadily led us to where we are today.”

And that is just the beginning. Illinois Computes has a five-year, $30 million funding commitment from UIUC and another $20 million from the University of Illinois System. Gropp and program leadership have taken the initial steps to extend the reach of Illinois Computes beyond the Urbana campus and assist researchers at the two other system universities in Chicago and Springfield. The research and development teams at the Discovery Partners Institute will also make use of Illinois Computes resources in the near future.

Following the early success of Illinois Computes in Urbana-Champaign, we are now in the initial stages of bringing compute and data resources to members of the Chicago and Springfield campuses as well as to our R&D friends at DPI. A governance board has been established and will decide which priority resources are needed for researchers based on feedback from their communities.

Bill Gropp, NCSA Director

NCSA continues to bolster the resources and services available to campus researchers.

Illinois Computes invested in 16 dedicated nodes of the Illinois Campus Cluster (ICC), the fourth largest active investment in the ICC program, and provides free access for up to 100,000 core hours to researchers.

“By removing barriers and offering users a robust support network, this new approach to research computing and data will bring resources to those unfamiliar with high-performance computing and cyberinfrastructure,” Gropp said. “The Illinois Campus Cluster has long been a reliable option for Illinois researchers, which is why supporting it through Illinois Computes – by providing compute nodes at no cost to the researcher – was an easy decision.”

Continuing its program mission to democratize research computing and make resources and support more accessible to campus, Illinois Computes is providing Jupyter Notebooks, an interactive interface for code, data and computational documents that’s perfect for those who are fresh to research computing or don’t require advanced levels of capacity. The Illinois Computes Research Notebooks (ICRN) program offers the support and technical expertise to help researchers from all domains utilize Jupyter Notebooks in their work.

“Jupyter Notebooks are a simple and accessible entry point for computing research, which aligns perfectly with our goals for Illinois Computes. This is an important step in NCSA helping support the computing needs across the University of Illinois campus.”

System and support upgrades aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Additional graphics processing units (GPUs) are being installed on NCSA’s cloud-like Radiant system, which will better support artificial intelligence (AI) and simulation, improve the capability of the ICRN project and further increase the potential of what researchers can accomplish on Radiant.

“Radiant is a tremendous resource for researchers,” Gropp said. “The cloud-like usage model gives researchers more interactive access to its capabilities than a system like Delta. The impressive storage capabilities, adaptability and now additional GPUs really make Radiant a useful tool for Illinois researchers.”

All of this effort is making an impact in a variety of research fields.

A multidisciplinary team from NCSA and the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) completed neural network training and inference on NCSA’s Delta system through Illinois Computes, leading to this novel engineering DeepONet research being published in “Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering.”

“The Illinois Computes resources have been extremely valuable for my research,” said Iwona Jasiuk, professor in MechSE and Richard W. Kritzer Faculty Scholar. “This comprehensive program has provided all the needed resources to advance my research in machine learning and computational mechanics at low cost. The technical support has been impressive and the application process was straightforward. This program facilitated the interdisciplinary collaboration with the NCSA researchers. We are jointly addressing open scientific questions and pressing technological problems while advancing computational tools.”

Lakisha Tawanda David, an assistant professor from the Department of Anthropology, will use Illinois Computes resources to test the DNA of 900 participants as part of the Family Roots Genealogy Program pilot to help the descendants of those who were enslaved in the Americas – or anywhere else in the world – find their roots. Saliva samples will be processed at the Roy J. Carver Biotechnology Center and analyzed with the assistance of Illinois Computes experts.

“The partnership with Illinois Computes has been a game-changer for our genetic genealogy project. Their generous financial support and technical expertise have propelled our work forward, accelerating our progress and expanding our capabilities,” David said. “The synergy between our project team and Illinois Computes has accelerated the development of our genetic genealogy reconstruction pipeline, keeping us on track to achieve our objectives with a high degree of scientific rigor. 

“Moreover, the Illinois Computes team has been incredibly thoughtful in helping us design user interfaces and experiences that make our research accessible, meaningful and empowering for African American participants. By combining their technical prowess with a deep commitment to social impact, Illinois Computes is playing an instrumental role in our efforts to harness genomic technology for restorative justice and cultural reclamation.”

Researchers from the Department of Climate, Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences and the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering needed a way to create a compelling high-quality, scientific visualization that effectively demonstrates the unique capabilities of a new and advanced aerosol model to an academic audience of their peers as well as the general public. Professors Nicole Riemer and Matthew West, and Research Scientist Jeff Curtis turned to NCSA’s award-winning visualization team to help through Illinois Computes.

This new model avoids the simplifications made by current climate models when simulating aerosol impacts and stands out by explicitly representing individual aerosol particles and their associated processes, providing an unprecedented modeling capability. Given the complexity of the output – where billions of particles interact across complex terrain and evolve over time, involving numerous chemical species – the team recognized the need for sophisticated visualization techniques.

“NCSA and (Lead Visualization Programmer) David Bock were outstanding partners for this project,” Riemer said. “By combining their innovative visualization techniques with our aerosol modeling expertise, we were able to better understand and communicate the complex impact of aerosol particles on climate change.”

These examples – with many more in the pipeline – highlight the power of Illinois Computes and the research it accelerates.

“The University of Illinois has always been a global leader in innovative and impactful research,” Gropp said. “Illinois Computes and NCSA are thrilled to help continue that legacy and see what the future holds for new and exciting discoveries enabled by research computing.”


Illinois Computes offers computing and data storage resources, technical expertise and support services to researchers from all domains across the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus for free. Through the campus-funded program, NCSA will learn what additional assets are needed to fulfill the computing demands of the university and adjust the cyberinfrastructure strategy while continuing to make access to systems, interdisciplinary and technical knowledge, and support infrastructure easy to obtain. Illinois Computes removes barriers for all Illinois researchers – especially those typically underserved – to access NCSA’s growing assemblage of research computing tools and world-class staff, furthering their innovative and novel work while ensuring NCSA is a leader in the global research community.

Check out the Illinois Computes website for more information or to get involved.

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