CHAMPAIGN — The man who helped launch the Blue Waters supercomputing project at the University of Illinois has been recruited back from Moscow to lead the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.
H. Edward Seidel, a top researcher in high-performance computing and astrophysics who has held scientific leadership posts around the world, will be the new NCSA director in January, pending approval this week by UI trustees.
Seidel, now senior vice president of research and innovation at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow, will earn $319,444 annually.
"Dr. Seidel's experience in high-performance computing and cyberinfrastructure is world-class, but what made Ed such a standout candidate was really his track record of leadership in both government and academia," said Peter Schiffer, UI vice chancellor for research. "He held a top leadership position at the NSF. He is currently working to build the research infrastructure of a brand new university from scratch. He successfully navigated a challenging environment to lead the development of an interdisciplinary research institute on the LSU campus. And he clearly understands the complexities of running a large and diverse organization."
Seidel will succeed Thom Dunning, a chemistry professor who has been director since January 2005. He announced his planned retirement from NCSA last year.
"I'm absolutely delighted," Dunning said Monday. "Anytime you're in a position like this you always hope that the person who follows you is even better than you are, and I think that is definitely the case here.
"We've had a long and very fruitful set of interactions with Ed over the years. He'll come in, I think, being able to really hit the ground running."
Seidel led NCSA's numerical relativity group from 1991-1996 and was one of the co-principal investigators on the Blue Waters project, serving as its first science director while at Louisiana State University.
Seidel was replaced in 2008 when he joined the National Science Foundation as director of the Office of Cyberinfrastructure. He became NSF's assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences from 2009-2012, overseeing a budget of more than $1.4 billion.
Seidel's leadership role at the NSF should give him perspective on emerging directions in science and engineering and on the federal funding climate, Schiffer added.
"We had an exceptional pool of candidates, which really speaks to NCSA's reputation, but Ed had an unusually broad perspective on how research and education are funded and carried out. He's worked internationally and he's been in senior government and academic positions here in the U.S. But he also knows the Illinois culture and understands the unique strengths of our institution. We are delighted that he has accepted this position."
In 2012 Seidel was recruited to help construct the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (also known as Skoltech), a partnership of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Russian Federation and the Skolkovo Foundation. Dunning said The hope is to create "a Russian version of MIT," Dunning said.
"Skoltech is at the leading edge of new universities in the world that are embedding innovation and entrepreneurship deeply into all education and research programs," Seidel said in the release. "NCSA, backed by a world-class research university, is helping to lead the computing and big data revolution internationally. I am excited to be joining NCSA as its new director, and with my previous experience, I will look forward to exploring opportunities for partnerships between Illinois and Russia's Skoltech."
Seidel earned a bachelor's degree in physics at the College of William and Mary in 1981; a master's degree in physics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1983; and a doctorate in relativistic astrophysics at Yale University in 1988.
In 1996 he was named the head of the numerical relativity group at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, also known as the Albert Einstein Institute. In 2003 he was appointed founding director of the Center of Computation and Technology at LSU, where he was credited with building interdisciplinary research programs across the campus and state, along with a statewide research infrastructure that led to significant increases in federal research funding.
Dunning expects Seidel to continue to emphasize science and engineering, build strong collaborations with the rest of the campus and "push off in new directions."
"I think he's going to be an outstanding director," Dunning said. "I'm going to be very pleased, five years from now, looking back and seeing what Ed and the rest of NCSA have accomplished."
NCSA was established in 1986 as one of the original sites of the NSF's Supercomputer Centers Program, developing computing and software technologies and offering computer resources to researchers around the world.
Besides Blue Waters, NCSA also leads the NSF's Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, a five-year, $121 million project to deliver advanced computing, data, networking, and collaboration tools and support to the nation's researchers. Seidel will likely place much more emphasis on that area, as he has worked with "big data" for many years as a computational astrophysicist, Dunning said. He also expects Seidel to continue to work with NSF on the next stage of supercomputing after Blue Waters.
Seidel will be visiting NCSA periodically between now and January and take part in weekly telephone calls with NCSA officials to make the transition as smooth as possible, Dunning said.
Dunning is retiring from UI in December but has accepted a position to set up a computing institute run jointly by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington in Seattle.
"It's hard to leave, from many perspectives," Dunning said. "My wife and I have really enjoyed the university and Champaign-Urbana, but our children are out on the West Coast."
Schiffer praised Dunning's leadership at NCSA, saying he brought "incredible energy and passion to the center" and set the stage for greater accomplishments.
Seidel is a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His research has been recognized by a number of awards, including the 2006 IEEE Sidney Fernbach Award.