NCSA 30 | Timeline
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NCSA’s CM-5 installed

A radical Thinking Machines Corporation (TMC) redesign, the CM-5 employed off-the-shelf SPARC processors with four 64-bit vector units added on. It was the first large scale "massively parallel" computing system to be employed by the National Science Foundation MetaCenter project and was one of the most popular systems for running some of most computationally intensive Grand Challenge computations. The CM-5 was a message-passing, distributed memory, massively...

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CONVEX C3880 enters production

NCSA users solved more complex problems with the arrival of a large-memory, eight-processor CONVEX C3880 supercomputer. Replacing the CONVEX C240, the CONVEX C3880 became the new center of NCSA's Numerical Laboratory, which explored interactive visualization, multimedia desktop video, and virtual reality. "We have cultivated a user base for very large memory applications on our Cray-2 supercomputer," said Michael Norman, NCSA research scientist in astronomy/astrophysics and Illinois...

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Eli Lilly develops asthma drug

David Herron of Eli Lilly and Company harnessed high-performance computing to aid the fight against asthma from the moment the company joined NCSA's Industrial Program, now the Private Sector Program, in 1987. Herron and the Lilly research team studied a class of small molecules known as leukotrienes, which cause the lungs to stiffen and become irritated. Lilly's goal was to develop receptor antagonists that recognize...

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Sever Tipei

Musical composition moves to the machine room

Sever Tipei, a professor in the University of Illinois' School of Music, saw a connection that, he said, had been lost on many people since the days of the Renaissance. He saw music and computation as sharing a common underpinning. With the help of NCSA researchers, he created a series of pieces that relied on the center's Cray Y-MP supercomputer. He established the parameters using...

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3D volumetric rendering of mummy

Mummies don't make their way to Central Illinois that often; when one does, you hate to destroy it while unraveling its secrets. The University of Illinois' World Heritage Museum received a donated Egyptian mummy in 1989. An interdisciplinary team, including NCSA, then worked to better understand the mummification process and to determine the mummy's age, sex, medical history, and cause of death. Two-dimensional CT scans were...

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CONVEX C240 comes online

The CONVEX C240 system—with 1 billion bytes of memory, and 50,000 calculations per second—came online in early 1991. The C240 formed the heart of NCSA's Numerical Laboratory, a research and development environment for interactive, three-dimensional visualization. In interactive visualization, the researcher sitting at a graphics workstation steers a supercomputer simulation and the accompanying visualization simultaneously in real time. The C240's large memory made it an effective...

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Cray Y-MP installed

The 4-processor, 1.3 billion calculations per second Cray Y-MP arrived and was put into production late 1990, replacing the Cray X-MP. By the time it retired, over 6,200 researchers and their students performed more than 100,000 hours of calculations on its four processors. The machine's speedy floating point performance, coupled with copious memory and disk resources, allowed scientists to explore problems in astrophysics, chaos, chemistry,...

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Smog simulation of the LA basin

Team visualizes impact of smog

The animations and visualizations that NCSA created in the late 1980s aided dozens of researchers. Their impact multiplied when, in 1990, the center built a top-flight digital post-production suite. The facility cost more than $1 million and allowed the visualization team to edit and package their creations more easily and in more advanced ways. "That's not something research centers did at the time. It wasn't something...

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Yellowstone Park's forest fire history

NCSA models Yellowstone fires

Not all forest fires are bad. They play a vital role in the dynamics of forest evolution, transforming fallen plant material to essential nutrients that leach into the soil, opening the canopy so seedlings can get sunlight, and encouraging plant and wildlife diversity. An animation by NCSA experimental technologies guru Alan Craig brought this fact home. A collaboration between the University of Illinois, Fort Lewis College...

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Connection Machines' CM-2

NCSA installs first massively parallel supercomputer

Though the center was begun with a straightforward mission to provide computing time to the nation's scientists and engineers, innovative new systems have always been on the machine room floor, too. "We try to build a ladder where we have both rock solid persistent resources and machines that are experimental," said Michael Welge, who has been at NCSA since the last 1980s and is now...

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