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Ocient Computational Center Provides Backbone for Computer Science Growth

Building an elite computer science program takes infrastructure—and lots of it. Thanks to a generous gift, the Department of Computer Science at Illinois Institute of Technology now has the facilities to house the equipment it needs to begin building an elite program, as well as to enhance educational opportunities and faculty research.

The Ocient Computational Center was unveiled at a ceremony on April 9 by computer science benefactor Chris Gladwin, a member of the Illinois Tech Board of Trustees and chair of the Computer Science Advisory Board, before a gathering of distinguished guests.

“Growth and success take space and resources,” says Eunice Santos, the computer science chair. “This donation enhances research in areas like computational medicine and cybersecurity, where the social impact is invaluable.”

 The Ocient Computational Center is an external secured container to house high-tech networks, servers, and other equipment, and also has plenty of room for expansion.

 “It’s all high end,” Santos says. “That container is providing a place for tangible hardware and architectural network capability needed to investigate harder and harder questions. It allows us to innovate problems for our students to work on, and also students to be able to have access to it, to try new things.”

Faculty are working on a variety of cutting-edge research in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and high-performance computing. Other faculty members run simulations on the spread of disease or simulations on cyber-physical systems. Without the additional capabilities the new center offers, those projects would be more limited in scale.

“We’re looking at the understanding of computing and data science in order to advance problem solving that affects society,” Santos says. “For example, one of our faculty works in cyberbullying, and the equipment that could potentially be housed in there could help in his investigation.”

The additional hardware the facility can store also will benefit students in the form of advanced coursework.

“That means we can have state-of-the-art AI courses, state-of-the-art cloud computing courses, state-of-the-art cybersecurity courses,” Santos said. “It would be much more difficult to do that based on the building infrastructure we have.” 

Gladwin donated $7.6 million to the computer science department in 2015.The Ocient Computational Center is being funded by part of that gift. Gladwin says this is just the beginning of a long process to build the department into a leader in the field.

“An old saying is that good deeds are often rewarded with more work,” Gladwin says. “This is the first visible brick in the pathway to transform this department and community into a top-tier program globally.”

Gladwin says more work will be coming during the next few years, or even decades, to build the computer science program into a national leader.

“This is the beginning of a big journey together,” Gladwin says.