Things we love about Illinois: The computer science program

(Photo by Sarah Williams/Illio 2010/UI Archives)
One of our favorite things about our favorite institution of higher education.

In the unfolding epic of computer engineering and information science at UI, no tale is better known than that of HAL, the supercomputer created by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. In addition to a berth aboard 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke provided HAL a birthplace of Urbana, Ill. Although destined for notoriety, HAL clearly was styled on the more benign ILLIAC mainframe—one of the world’s first supercomputers.

Assembled in 1949 in UI’s Digital Computing Lab, ILLIAC was succeeded by systems with greater information processing capacity for faculty and student research. In the 1960s, the mainframe gave birth to PLATO—a computerized learning system with innovations ahead of its time, including touch screens, chat rooms and gaming.

PCs and Macs supplanted PLATO, but UI continues to advance the practice of supercomputing. In 2012, UI launched NCSA crown jewel Blue Water, a supercomputer with a capacity of 13 quadrillion calculations per second. The system is so large it requires cooling by water, hence its name.

UI techno-alumni haven’t been idle either, having designed several software programs and apps, including Mosaic (the Web browser that later became Netscape), Oracle, Lotus, Yelp!, Paypal, Safari, Firefox and YouTube.

Did we miss one? For more in this series, search “Things we love about Illinois.”