CSL celebrates 60th anniversary
As the incubator of a navigational compass for nuclear submarines, the plasma display and PLATO, the first computer-assisted educational program, the Coordinated Science Laboratory has a 60-year tradition of creating technology that has transformed everything from defense to medicine.
CSL, which is believed to be the oldest multidisciplinary research laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2011. A year of anniversary activities culminated with a public lecture on robotics at Spurlock Museum on Thursday, Oct. 27, and an anniversary symposium, with keynote speaker E. William Colglazier, science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, on Friday, Oct. 28, at the Coordinated Science Laboratory.
“In the past 60 years, CSL innovations have changed the way we live, work and play,” said William H. Sanders, CSL Director and a Donald Willett Biggar Professor of Engineering. “From wireless networks to handheld devices, many of the innovations we use today use technology developed by CSL.”
Since its inception in 1951 as the Control Systems Laboratory, CSL’s focus has been on the intersection of basic science and real-world applications. It was created by a group of physicists, led by then-department head F. Wheeler Loomis, to address urgent military needs during the Korean War. Out of those early efforts sprung the electrostatic vacuum gyroscope, which allowed nuclear submarines to navigate while submerged for months at a time; advances in airborne and ground-based radar (one of which allowed radar to lock onto moving targets); and the foundation for synthetic aperture radar, still used in reconnaissance missions today.
The Laboratory was declassified in 1959 and renamed the Coordinated Science Laboratory to reflect its new vision. Researchers still worked on control problems, but began applying them to manufacturing, aeronautics, economics and robotics, among other areas.
CSL also started exploring computing, then in its infancy, focusing on reliability and architectures that advanced computing power and speed. Other researchers developed novel computer applications, such as PLATO, the first computer-assisted educational platform. Hundreds of thousands of students used PLATO to learn how to do everything from solve math problems to fly Boeing 747s. The platform’s unique technology requirements also led to the development of the plasma display, the first online social community, blogging, online multiplayer gaming, e-newsletters and many other technologies that have only recently gained popularity with the masses.
Researchers also helped develop the infrastructure for today’s wireless networks and created the ability to estimate 3D motion from 2D images, a technique that has been incorporated into the Moving Picture Experts Group’s MPEG international standards for video transmission.
Today, CSL researchers in engineering, computer science, mathematics, the social sciences, law and economics are working on technologies such as Green GPS, which projects the most fuel-efficient route; MRIs that can process images in real-time; and security for the nation’s power grid, among many others. The Laboratory is home to centers and institutes that are working on advances in information trust, parallel computing, digital science, engineering ethics, wireless networks and communications infrastructure and policy.
“CSL has historically been a place that has taken on the challenge of finding solutions to society’s biggest problems,” Sanders said. “We’ll keep doing that for at least another 60 years, using CSL’s deep disciplinary excellence to solve tomorrow’s interdisciplinary problems.”