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Project Profile

CADENS (The Centrality of Advanced Digitally ENabled Science) is a National Science Foundation-supported project to increase digital literacy and inform the general public about computational and data-enabled scientific discovery. It’s led by NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory which has created data-driven visualizations seen by millions of people in productions for IMAX theaters, planetariums, museums and TV documentaries. Project team leads include veteran science producer/writer Thomas Lucas; fulldome show producer/distributor Mike Bruno, the creative media director of Spitz; and John Towns and Bill Kramer, of the NSF-supported XSEDE and Blue Waters projects, which enable thousands of people across the country to carry out computational and data-driven research.

CADENS conducted two calls for participation in 2015 and 2016, casting a wide net to find new research collaborators and we continue to draw from that database of researchers to develop data visualizations for the documentaries. During that initial call, as part of the review process, a science advisory committee was formed to ensure that the research being visualized was of the highest quality. Lucas commented on the process saying, “We hope to open people’s eyes to whole new ways of seeing the world, and to show the passion of scientists on the verge of profound discoveries.”

Over the lifetime of the project, CADENS is producing ultra-high-resolution digital documentaries that will premiere at giant-screen fulldome theaters and later scaled for wide distribution to smaller theaters found at a growing number of museums, planetariums, science centers and academic institutions. “Digital fulldome planetariums are the fastest-growing immersive theater format today,” said Bruno. “Demand is high for programs with AVL’s brand of dramatic, cinematic, and scientifically accurate visualizations. We expect to reach millions of viewers worldwide over the life of these films.”

The CADENS team is also producing high-definition documentary programs covering a wide range of science subjects. These shows are distributed online via YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vimeo and other international media outlets. CADENS has also created short-form “The Making of” mini-featurettes that include scientist interviews and personal stories, with descriptions of their research and data visualizations.

CADENS sponsored two Broadening Participation Workshops in collaboration with Dr. Vetria Byrd.

CADENS has developed more than 27 scientific visualizations included in these award winning productions.


“The Making of”



Kevin Marvel, Ph.D.
Executive Officer, American Astronomical Society

Irene Fonseca, Ph.D.
Professor of Mathematics Director, Center for Nonlinear Analysis, CMU;
President, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM),
Carnegie Mellon

Jacqueline Chen, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Exascale Simulation of Combustion in Turbulence (ExaCT),
Sandia National Labs

Michael S. Turner, Ph.D.
Director Kavli Institute, University of Chicago;
VP of American Physical Society;
Bruce V. & Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor, Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics,
Enrico Fermi Institute,
University of Chicago

William D Gropp, Ph.D.
Director and Chief Scientist, NCSA;
Thomas M. Siebel Chair in Computer Science,
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Edward Seidel, Ph.D.
Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation,
University of Illinois System

Thomas Dunning, Ph.D.
Affiliate Professor of Chemistry;
Co-Director, Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing,
University of Washington


Donna Cox, MFA, Ph.D.
Project Investigator
Director, Advanced Visualization Lab, NCSA

Tom Lucas
Thomas Lucas Productions

John Towns
XSEDE project

Bill Kramer
Blue Waters project

Robert Patterson
Advanced Visualization Lab, NCSA


Lizanne DeStefano
Director of I-STEM

Lorna Rivera
I-STEM Senior Research Specialist

Christine Shenouda

CADENS is supported by National Science Foundation through award ACI-1445176.

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