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Tom DeFanti Awarded Innovations In Networking Award for Outstanding Individual Contributions

In recognition of his work to develop next generation networks, advance the mission of Calit2, and shape collaborations across organizations, CENIC recognizes Tom DeFanti, an internationally recognized pioneer in visualization and virtual reality technologies at Calit2, University of California San Diego, as the recipient of the 2017 Innovations in Networking Award for Outstanding Individual Contributions.

DeFanti's commitment to advance both technology and the common good is evident to all who are fortunate to work with him. Maxine Brown has worked with DeFanti since 1977, and is now director of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which DeFanti co-founded with art professor Dan Sandin in 1973. As Maxine recalled, “Advanced networking was an obvious extension of Tom’s passion for real-time interactive computer graphics, with emphasis on ‘real time,’ whether images and animations are viewed locally or over distance.”

DeFanti’s interest in networking began when SIGGRAPH, the world’s largest, most influential annual conference and exhibition in computer graphics and interactive techniques, was held in Chicago in 1992. In partnership with Larry Smarr, then at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Rick Stevens of Argonne National Laboratory, DeFanti’s work enabled researchers to connect supercomputers and instruments back home and virtually bring their laboratories to the conference site.

In 1995, DeFanti, Smarr, and Stevens organized the first IEEE/ACM Supercomputing (SC) I-WAY event, interconnecting rederal agency advanced networks and enabling 60 distributed, high-performance computing and visualization projects throughout the US to be showcased at the conference site in San Diego. The National Science Foundation (NSF) noticed, and Steve Goldstein, NSF program director for Interagency and International Networking Coordination, contacted DeFanti to do the same for international advanced networks, saying that DeFanti, as a user of networks, would make sure these networks not only interconnected, but interoperated as well.

In partnership with Joe Mambretti, who had created the Metropolitan Research and Education Network in Chicago, DeFanti spearheaded the NSF STAR TAP international connection point, which has evolved into today’s StarLight. “Over the past 25 years, Tom continues to push the limits of big networks, as big resolution instruments, sensors and simulations generate big visualization and virtual-reality data that scientists want to access, display, and share on big displays,” said Mambretti, director of the International Center for Advanced Internet Research at Northwestern University.

With his work in visualization and virtual reality technologies recognized around the world, DeFanti was instrumental in developing the new Media Arts Wing at Calit2. One of the most advanced facilities of its kind in the world, the high-end visualization and virtual reality experiments conducted in this facility engage students, researchers, and faculty members and provide a real sense of what the future can hold.

"Tom has been one of my closest collaborators for three decades. He was a driver of the innovation at NCSA and Calit2 in virtual reality, scalable visualization, green IT, and optical networking," said Smarr, founding director of CalIT2 and Harry E. Gruber Professor of Computer Science at UC San Diego.

From his work with GreenLight Instruments, enabling scientists from diverse disciplines to measure and then minimize energy consumption, to his work with National Lambda Rail, a 12,000-mile high-speed national network infrastructure owned and operated by the US research and education community, DeFanti’s contributions to the development of next-generation networks and applications to advance science have been profound.

CENIC presents the Innovations in Networking Awards at its annual conference to highlight the exemplary innovations that leverage ultra-high bandwidth networking, particularly where those innovations have the potential to transform how instruction and research are conducted or where they further the deployment of broadband in underserved areas.

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