University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign logo.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, its faculty, students, staff, and graduates have a history of research contributions to culturally transformative technologies and programs in support of their exploration. The timeline below reflects highlights that laid the groundwork for the eDream Institute.


Joseph T. Tykociner, Professor of Electrical Engineering, joins the faculty and holds a demonstration of sound reproduced from motion picture film. University policy and industry indifference does not permit him to pursue patents for sound movies. Tykociner continues his research until retirement in 1946.



Music Professor Lejaren Hiller, with Leonard Isaacson, uses ILLIAC I, the first computer built and owned by a US university, to compose the Illiac Suite, which is one of the first pieces of music to be written with the aid of a computer. Hiller also uses ILLIAC I to edit that are typed with a music-typewriter called the "Musicwriter"; to help compose his musical piece "Seven Electronic Studies"; and to do preliminary work for the composition "Computer Cantata," which leads, with the assistance of Robert Baker, to the development of MUSICOMP, one of the first computer languages for computer-assisted composition.



Lejaren Hiller establishes the first experimental music studio in the Western world.  Hiller’s computer sound synthesis was augmented by his colleagues’ creations:  Herbert Brün’s expanded gestural computer synthesis, Salvatore Martirano’s Sal-Mar Construction, and James Beauchamp’s Harmonic Tone Generator.  EMS's present facilities include ten state-of-the-art, custom studios for sound generation, processing, and recording.


The social computing revolution begins at UIUC as the first version of the PLATO computer-based education system is implemented on the ILLIAC I by a team led by Donald Bitzer. Developed as a solution to individualized instruction, PLATO became the basis for the first online community, complete with online forums and message boards, online testing, email, picture languages, and remote screen sharing. Soon after CAMIL (Computer Assisted Music Instruction Laboratory) is founded.


Alumnus Nick Holonyak invents the first practical LED (light-emitting diode).  Holonyak earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Electrical Engineering from UIUC, studying under two-time Nobel prize winner John Bardeen (1956, invention of transistors; 1972, theory of superconductivity).  Holonyak went on to become John Bardeen Endowed Professor of Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Physics at his alma mater.



The monochrome plasma video display is co-invented by Donald Bitzer, H. Gene Slottow, and graduate student Robert Willson for the PLATO Computer System. The original neon orange monochrome Digivue display panels built by glass producer Owens-Illinois are popular throughout the early 1970s because they are rugged and need neither memory nor circuitry to refresh images.


In Director Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the sentient AI entity HAL 9000 (based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke) is depicted as having been created at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign–probably due to the University's engineering of the ILLIAC series of computers, the first to be based on the Institute of Advanced Study von Neumann architecture, beginning in 1951.



Alumnus Michael S. Hart founds Project Gutenberg, what is now the oldest digital library.  He began the project on a Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer located in the university's Materials Research Lab (one of fifteen network nodes that would later become the Internet), choosing to first digitize the United States Declaration of Independence.  As of December 2007, the project had digitized over 28,000 books with approximately 50 more added each week by dedicated volunteers.



Alumnus Bruce Artwick (MS'76) develops Flight Simulator and forms subLOGIC to market the simulator for personal computers.  He forms a new company, BAO, which, in 1982, licenses the simulator to Microsoft.  It is marketed as  Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00.


Alumnus John Cioffi (BS'78 electrical engineering) begins to develop DSL (digital subscriber line) technology, which enables digital data transmissions over regular telephone networks. The technology revolutionizes the capabilities of Internet use.


Alumnus Tomlinson Holman (BS'68) develops THX, a high-fidelity sound reproduction standard for audio systems, including cinema. Holman produced THX while at Lucasfilm to ensure that the soundtrack for the third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi, would be accurately reproduced in the best venues.



School of Music founds the Computer Music Project, led by Sever Tipei, which makes extensive use of the Experimental Music Studios, currently led by Scott Wyatt.



ChoraLearn, a computer program designed at the School of Music, enables researchers and students to imitate and analyze Bach chorales.


NCSA (Larry Smarr, Donna Cox, George Francis) and Electronic Visualization Lab / UC-Chicago (Dan Sandin, Tom DeFanti) collaborate with Ellen Sandor and (art)n to create a digital process for producing PHSColograms (barrier-strip and lenticular autostereoscopic images).  The resulting artwork is first shown at the Fermilab (US Dept of Energy) in 1987.
TOP: 1986 Etruscan Venus at Fermilab (from left: Tom DeFanti, Donna Cox, Ellen Sandor, Larry Smarr)
BOTTOM: 1989 Etruscan Venus by the Illimath Collective



The Illimath Collective forms.  It is a group of students, scholars, artists, technologists, and scientists based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at Chicago who create mathematical artworks.
Eye.Full by the Illimath Collective (original 1998, reproduction 2006) an inside view of an everting sphere from The Optiverse, a video by John M Sullivan (former faculty Dept of Mathematics), George Francis (Dept of Mathematics), and Stuart Levy (NCSA), with original music by Camille Goudeseune (ISL, Beckman Institute)



Alumnus Larry F. Weber (BSEE'69 MSEE'71 PhD'75) founds Plasmaco, which acquired from IBM what was then the world’s largest plant for manufacturing plasma displays.  While a student, Weber became interested in plasma displays and pursued postgraduate work in the field under Bitzer and Slottow. His research eventually earns him 15 patents relating to plasma displays. One of his early contributions is the power-saving "energy recovery sustain circuit," now included in every color plasma display.


In the early days of scientific visualization (1987 is often cited as the year that sci viz as a field was "born"), then undergraduate computer science major Michael B. Johnson (BS'88) renders stills and animation sequences on a Cray X/MP-48 and Alliant FX-80, including an early version of the now-famous "thunderstorm."  It is the first data-driven, 3D animation of a severe storm.  Johnson has since earned a PhD from the MIT Media Lab and made a career at Pixar Animation Studios in Research and Development.

the first data-driven, 3D animation of a severe storm


NCSA graphics specialists create the first animation of molecular movement in photosynthesis.



(November 5-7)  Simulations/Dissimulations is an early international symposium focused on "the interchange between artistic and technological modes of thinking and methods of production.  Held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, it gathers major thinkers about and practitioners in contemporary arts, technology, and culture, including Jean Baudrillard, Maxine Brown, Muriel Cooper, Donna Cox, Peter D'Agostino, Werner Herterich, Scott Kim, Ellen Sandor, Dan Sandin, Alan Rath, Aribert Munzer, Pamela McCorduck, Salvatore Martirano, John Manning, Myron Krueger, George Shipporeit, James Seawright, Michel Segard, Joel Slayton, Larry Smarr, Joel Snyder, Robert Snyder, Joan Truckenbrod, Graham Weinbren, and Stephen Wilson.


Brian Evans, then at NCSA, develops a new means of in electronic art of "measuring the color balance of an image through proportions of red, green and blue intensities" using sound (by associating balanced color relationships with tonic space, which "functions like tonic pitch or key in tonal music," with color-tone pairings referred to as "marie sets").


The Arnold O. and Mabel M. Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology opens.  Among the Beckman Institute's four research themes are Human-Computer Intelligent Interaction and Integrative Imaging.



Alumnus and Swanlund Professor Richard Powers (BA'78 MA'80 English) is awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (popularly called a "genius" grant). Powers' fiction explores contemporary techno-culture and its effects. He is often involved as a consultant and participant in arts-technology explorations on campus.


NCSA Senior Research Scientist Alan Craig and Carla Scaletti (CERL Sound Group, UIUC) develop prototypes of several high-level sonification tools for extracting meaning from complex data in a number of formats.  Prototypes include Mapper (maps data to various sonic parameters), Comparator (feeds a different mapping into each speaker channel), and Sonic Histogram (maps the magnitude of each category onto the amplitude of its associated sound).


The CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) premiers at SIGGRAPH. Its inventors at the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago are Thomas A. DeFanti, Daniel J. Sandin, and Carolina Cruz-Neira. The Urbana-Champaign campus also installs a CAVE, and CAVE applications are developed for years in collaboration with the Beckman Institute and NCSA at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.



Alumnus Eric Bain (BS'86 mathematics, computer science) co-creates Mortal Kombat, the video game, which becomes an international phenomenon.


NCSA releases Mosaic, the graphical browser credited with popularizing the world wide web.  Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina designed and programmed Mosaic.  They go on to found Netscape.



ACM@UIUC Student Chapter initiates Reflections | Projections, an annual student computing conference that draws national speakers, some working in digital arts media, and hosts the MechMania programming contest and a job fair.


The University of Illinois hosts Cyberfest'97 (March 10-15) to celebrate is contributions to the evolutions of and revolutions in computing.  Events include Larry Smarr's keynote talk on "Why HAL was born in Urbana" and demonstrations of NCSA's Symera Distribution System (S3) and the Advanced Visualization Lab's Riverweb.  The climax of the celebration is the CyberGala, which features "a one-of-a-kind 'virtual time-space performance' by NCSA Senior Research Programmer Robin Bargar and his team of artists and engineers.  The work integrates images, sounds, and music from Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey in a virtual space where musicians play and interact on an 18' x 24' screen" (Access). The CyberGala is hosted by film critic and native son Roger Ebert.


Members of a scientific visualization team at NCSA, led by Donna Cox, are nominated for an Academy Award for their work on the science documentary Cosmic Voyage (1996). The team will become AVL.



RiverWeb–funded by a major NSF grant, is developed by NCSA's AVL in partnership with three Midwestern science museums.  The series of visualizations employ state-of-the-art computer graphics technologies to demonstrate to the public "how the Mississippi behaves as a complex, dynamic, integrated river system. The interactive displays…enable visitors to explore the subtle dynamics of the river basin over varying scales of time and space, past, present and future" (Juhan Sonin, RiverWeb creative architect).



Donna Cox, Bob Patterson, and Marcus Thiebaux receive a patent for the technologies behind Virtual Director, a virtual choreography and navigation system that enables users to see and control the virtual camera in 3-dimensional stereo, to record frames and to preview the recording on virtual screens. Virtual Director™ also provides capabilities to collaborate over the Internet so that users can interact together even though they may be located at great distances from each other geographically.



James Tsai (BS'98 Electrical Engineering) joins Volition, Inc. in Champaign, Illinois, becoming a Senior Designer within seven years.  He contributes to several critically acclaimed titles, including Punisher, FreeSpace 2, Summoner, and the Red Faction series.


Guy Garnett, Mike Ross, and others form the Interdisciplinary Art and Technology Initiative, which is taken up the following year by Chancellor Nancy Cantor.


The Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL) takes its current form, under the leadership of Donna Cox, who first joined NCSA in 1985. AVL specializes in cinematic, high-fidelity scientific visualizations for public engagement. The visualizations regularly appear in venues such as digital full domes and science documentaries on PBS NOVA and the Discovery Channel.


In response to then-Chancellor Nancy Cantor's "The Arts in a Technology-Intensive World" cross-campus initiative, the Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Human Creativity is established to facilitate arts-technology project collaborations across campus.  The Initiative is led by Mike Ross, with Donna Cox and Guy Garnett.  Hub sites include ICHASS and two KAM, Beckman Illinois Simulator Lab, and Art + Design collaborations: the Intermedia Lab at FAA and CANVAS (Collaborative Advanced Navigation Virtual Art Studio) at KAM.
Rose Marshack creates a work of 3D art in the CANVAS 3-screen, back-projected, virtual reality open lab



The Illinois Simulator Lab (ISL) at the Beckman Institute, led by Hank Kaczmarski, performs Hummingbird at the Internet2 conference, in which a motion-captured dancer in Champaign-Urbana performing with a live dancer on stage in Los Angeles.


ISL twice performs Fairy Sports, in which one dancer moves on an optical motion-capture stage and another moves in the Cube, while together they interact in a physics-based virtual environment.



Guy Garnett, with research partners Rachael Brady and Karen Ruhleder, develops Virtual Ensemble, a conductor-driven virtual ensemble, for conductor training and live performance.


The School of Music's Computer-Assisted Music Instruction Lab (CAMIL) is redesigned to incorporate state-of-the-art resources and CAMIL II is added. CAMIL I now serves computer music classes and independent research projects in software sound synthesis, computer-based composition and interactive performance control, while CAMIL II supports technology-related classes in Music Education.


Microsoft Founded Bill Gates says in a February speech that his company hires more graduates from the University of Illinois than from any other university.


The multiple award-winning literary arts journal Ninth Letter is launched, a collaboration between Art + Design and the Creative Writing Program of the Department of English.  The image-rich print journal is designed by students with faculty support, and features online content that includes a blog as well as original student-produced material, such as videos and podcasts.



Guy Garnett–with the support of Mike Ross, Marc Snir (then Head of Computer Science), and Richard Herman (then Chancellor)–establishes the Cultural Computing Program.  CCP's mission is to bring art and technology into the research and curricula of the Siebel Center.  The Program establishes the Digital Collective to collaborate on research and performance (later, the Cultural Computing Research Group).  Research focuses on intelligent performance space, intelligent instruments, collaboration tools, gaming, and cultural access.  A lab is developed from scratch to support CCP; its equipment is later transferred to eDream's Creativity Space.
What Remains, one of four Digital Collective pieces exhibited at the Ispace Gallery, Chicago, January 2008



Guy Garnett of Music and Roy Campbell of Computer Science teach a project-based course in the Spring: Computer Arts II: The Intelligent Performance Space.  Students design and build an intelligent space for the future of performance and develop artist-oriented user tools for real-world conditions.  Their work includes using location awareness, tracking, and other sensors to coordinate people and their activities and to control video, lighting, scenography, and sound.


As an outgrowth of the Seedbed, ICHASS (Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Science) is formed under the leadership of historian Vernon Burton and Education Policy specialist Kevin Franklin.  Guy Garnett helps to draft founding documents.  In 2008, ICHASS becomes part of the Illinois Informatics Institute, but remains housed at NCSA.


With support from the Seedbed, a transdomain summer course is taught that invites students to respond to the Kabakovs' "Palace of Projects" commissioned structure, which houses 65 individual projects.  The course is led by Jonathan Fineberg of Art History, Kevin Hamilton of Art + Design, and Roy Campbell of Computer Science.
Professors Fineberg, Hamilton, and Campbell



Guy Garnett of Music and Roy Campbell of Computer Science teach a project-oriented Fall class: Computing Arts: Art in Virtual Worlds.  Students work in interdisciplinary project teams to create interactive experiences that merge gaming and art in new, emergent media experiences.  They work with game programming, scripting, design, 3D modeling, and music as well as aesthetic issues.


Alumni Steve Chen (attended) and Jawed Karim (BS'04, computer science) with PayPal colleague Chad Hurley found YouTube.  In November 2006, the company is sold to Google for $1.65 billion.


Art + Design launches a BFA and an MFA in New Media. Students and faculty work in sound, video, interactive media and web-based platforms to create performances, exhibitions, client-driven applications, and projects in public space. Central to the program is a philosophical commitment to innovation and to art as the expressing of ideas, and to the use of whatever material strategy might be appropriate, including painting, sculptural media, photography, video, performance, and web-based or community-based art practices.


The State of Illinois Art Art-in-Architecture Program for Public Installation at NCSA commissions (art)n to create Universal Atmospheres, a public art PHSCologram installation by Ellen Sandor (Director), Janine Fron, Nick Gaul, and Dien Truong that composites AVL visualizations into barrier-strip and lenticular autostereoscopic panels.  The installation is seen by hundreds of visitors to the Center each year.



Art + Design begins Designmatters, a campus-wide lecture series led by David Weightman, that explores the synergistic interrelationships between design, engineering, technology, and business in the creation of innovative and successful products, services, and experiences.  Speakers herald from academia, the media, engineering, technology, business, and the design professions.


The Illinois Informatics Institute, a "virtual organization," is founded to provide an infrastructure "to unite the many and disparate research and educational activities related to informatics across campus."  The Institute fosters multi-disciplinary collaboration, supports joint academic appointments, offers informatics courses and academic programs, and sponsors research and technology development.  The Informatics PhD proposed by I3 in 2008 includes the Arts and Culture area through which eDream hopes to guide advanced arts-technology graduates.


Computer Science Professor Klara Nahrstedt is selected to chair ACM's SIG on Advanced Multimedia Applications.  At the time, she heads UIUC's Multimedia Operating System and Networking Group (MONET), which is working to develop "tele-immersive 3D multi-camera room environments." That includes studying ways to enable "distributed physical activities such as physical therapy, sport activities, and entertainment."


The Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media Institute (eDream) is founded to promote research, education, and public engagement through creative production on campus and throughout the international digital arts media community.


Imag(in)ing Life: "Nature in her genius had imitated art" Exhibit, guest curated by Hank Kaczmarski, at the Krannert Museum of Art.  The collaboration between KAM's CANVAS Lab and the Beckman Institute showcases nature's artistry as seen through scientific instrumentation (runs from October 23-January 3).



The Illinois Informatics Institute, offers a new PHD in informatics — a unique research degree defined by applying innovative computational methods to advance existing or new fields of inquiry. “This degree allows faculty and students the utmost flexibility and support to design and conduct innovative computationally-informed research at the cutting edge of many fields, and to lead in the creation of entirely new areas of study.” Professor Garnett, School of Music, Director of Research for eDREAM Institute, Institute for Advanced Computer Applications and Technologies, National Center for Supercomputing Applications.


— Kelly Searsmith