Illinois, IBM Ready to Push the Boundaries of What's Possible in Computing

18 Illinois CS faculty are involved in research projects through the new IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute that will further advance technology spanning the hybrid cloud and AI, materials discovery and quantum computing.

Written by Aaron Seidlitz

Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering and Illinois Computer Science Department Head, Nancy M. Amato, didn’t hesitate when describing her work associated with the new IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute as “one of the broadest research projects I have ever been associated with.”

Considering her research career spans more than 30 years at some of the most influential entities in academia and industry, these words have deep meaning.

Nancy Amato
Amato's research project.

Amato’s description also speaks perfectly to the potential for the Discovery Accelerator Institute, which includes a 10-year agreed-upon collaboration supported through $200 million in funding. At its core, the accelerator will combine the strengths of academia and the industrial sector to spur breakthroughs in emerging areas of technology. It is one of the main global centers in IBM’s growing ecosystem of partners seeking to accelerate scientific progress with advanced technology.

It will do so by pairing faculty and students from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, housed within The Grainger College of Engineering, with IBM researchers to form large-scale research collaborations in the areas of Hybrid Cloud and AI, Quantum Computing, Materials Discovery, and Sustainability.

Amato’s project, entitled “Robots on the (Mobile) Edge and in the Hybrid Cloud,” involves seven other Illinois faculty, including: Katie Driggs-Campbell, Liangyan Gui, Julia Hockenmaier, Robin Kravets, Marco Morales Aguirre, Lawrence Rauchwerger, and Yuxiong Wang.

Additionally, seven IBM researchers - Dhiraj Joshi, Dinesh Verma, Jose Moreira, Nirmit Desai, Shiqiang Wang, Divyesh Jadav, Luis Bathen - will collaborate with the faculty. Several students will also play an active role in developing this research.

The goal is to develop adaptive cyber-physical systems in which robot teams collaborate with humans and other robots to perform complex tasks in structured and instrumented industrial settings, such as factories and fulfillment centers. Amato said they are also investigating remote operation. Methods developed for such structured industrial settings are the first step on the path to deployment of robotic assistants in office, commercial and home environments.

A distinguishing feature of this project is the complex computational environment. It includes the robots and the edge, or the environment surrounding the robots, which contains sensors and computational devices allowing communication and the passage of data. Finally, it will incorporate the use of the cloud, for larger computational capacity and to provide access to both proprietary and shareable resources.

“The immense scope of these efforts is why we require a really broad team. These efforts include experts in robotics, computer vision, AI and human computer interaction, wireless networking and high performance computing. What's so exciting about work like this, is it represents the next step of an already impactful relationship that we've had with IBM. The IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute is going to allow us to have a huge impact in emerging areas of computing, as well as some of our mainstays that we've been long-standing leaders in.”


Nancy M. Amato, Department Head, Computer Science


Klara Nahrstedt

Grainger Distinguished Chair of Engineering in Computer Science

“The IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute enables close collaboration opportunities between university researchers and tech industrial scientists and engineers, which are not possible only within academia. In our energy efficient hybrid cloud project, we identified many real world challenges and opportunities after discussion with IBM’s collaborators. Furthermore, the hardware and system support from IBM will greatly accelerate the overall innovation process.” 


Gang Wang

Assistant Professor in Computer Science

“We are very excited about the new academic-industry partnership model. Our project focuses on AI-driven security and resiliency. Working with IBM researchers allows us to easily connect our research exploration with emerging security and resiliency problems in real-world systems. Combining the expertise from both sides, we hope to make breakthroughs on this front. The 'externship' is also a new model introduced by the Institute. Our students will get to visit IBM, work closely with IBM researchers, and test our research prototypes in this project."


Josep Torrellas

Saburo Muroga Professor in Computer Science

“The IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute is unique in that it combines two organizations, both with strong tradition in computer systems research: the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and IBM Research. The two institutions also provide complementary resources: many young minds from UIUC and experienced designers from IBM. The combination will deliver breakthroughs in computing technology.”

Officially announced in May 2021, Amato’s project is one of 13 that currently involve Illinois CS faculty.

Of those projects, 11 reside in the Hybrid Cloud & AI research area, which Amato said points to the breadth and depth of Illinois CS faculty established in it.

“This is a testament to our leadership in this field; that we really do have a large number of faculty, some of the very best researchers in the world, focused on that area,” Amato said.

While projects within the Hybrid Cloud & AI have accumulated quickly, Amato points out that CS faculty will reach far beyond it to impact the Discovery Accelerator Institute.

“We’re tremendously excited to see a focus on other areas that push the boundaries of what we are all capable of through collaborative, multidisciplinary work,” she said. “Quantum Computing is one example, for which we will pair with IBM and academic researchers in Illinois departments like Physics and Electrical & Computer Engineering. Then there’s Materials Discovery, which increasingly relies on computational tools to effectively conduct research.

“It’s amazing to engage in so many different types of projects.”

Utilizing that collaborative spirit will be integral to expanding the entire project’s scope.


Computer Science Professors







In doing so, its impact will extend beyond research results and into other initiatives. This includes Grainger Engineering’s emphasis on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which correlates with the Illinois CS vision for Broadening Participation in Computing.

“IBM and the University of Illinois intend to fuel and broaden a more diverse talent and leadership pipeline, because our entire community benefits when diverse individuals come together in this fashion," said Rashid Bashir, Dean of Grainger Engineering.

Amato believes this will occur organically when a dedication to inclusivity and support pairs with stimulating new opportunities.

“Broadening Participation in Computing is a core value of our department, and it fits well within the vision leaders have throughout Grainger Engineering. I’m glad that this became a primary emphasis of the IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute,” Amato said. “I believe this partnership will be extremely helpful in generating outreach activities and excitement about participating in research at Illinois CS, encouraging a more diverse group of students and faculty to involve themselves in this meaningful work.”

In addition to advancing technology research, the Discovery Accelerator Institute, IBM and UIUC will aim to drive job creation, industrial sector growth and new economic growth for the State of Illinois. The institute aligns with the goals of the Illinois Innovation Network, including the Discovery Partners Institute of the UI System, and the mission of P33, to further seed and expand workforce development and diversity for future science and information technology opportunities across the state.

“The IBM institute cements The Grainger College of Engineering and the entire University of Illinois system at the forefront of technological advancements in quantum computing, AI, and the hybrid cloud, and it sets our state up to become a serious technology industry leader on the international stage,” said Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.

Research Projects

Topic Illinois Faculty IBM Technical Leads
Data Understanding Knowledge Discovery and Applications Chengxiang Zhai*, Kevin Chang*,  Jiawei Han* Anbang Xu, Yu Deng, Nicholas Fuller, Yunyao Li, Lucian Popa, Larisa Shwartz
Modern AI Techniques Like RL for Automated System Optimization and Prediction Radhika Mittal*, Brighton Godfrey* Laura Schwartz, Srinivasan Parthasarathy, Anbang Xu
Cross Layer AI-driven Resiliency and Security Gang Wang*, Ravi Iyer*, Zbigniew Kalbarczyk Fatih Bulut, Daby Sow, Larisa Schwartz, Christian Pinto, Abdulhamid Adebayo, Constantin Adam, Michele Gazzetti, Panagiotis Koutsovasilis, Srikumar Venugopal, Frank Bagehorn, Jesus Maria Rios Aliaga, Karthikeyan Shanmugan
Service Level Objectives-aware Scheduling for Multi-Tenant Machine Learning including Workflows with Seamless Ineroperability Across Stacks Indy Gupta*, Rakesh Nagi* Chen Wang, Asser Tantawi, Diana Arroyo, Alaa Youssef
Enabling Cloud-native HPC Applications and Support for AI Workflows Volodymyr Kindratenko,* Wen-mei Hwu*, Laxmikant Kale*, Laura Herriott Carlos Costa, Claudia Misale, Lixiang Luo, Apoorve Mohan
Renewable Energy-Aware AI Workloads and their Modeling, Optimization and Resource Management in Hybrid Clouds Klara Nahrstedt*, Deming Chen* Asser Tantawi, Tamar Eilam, Alaa Youssef, Bruno Michel, Nandhini Chandramoorthy
Operating System Support for Container Security and Processor Design for Containers Josep Torrellas*, Tianyin Xu* Hubertus Franke
Testing and Analysis of Custom Operators for Cloud Infrastructures Tianyin Xu* Paolo Dettori, Mandaa Vaziri, Chen Wang
Power-Aware Hardware and System Software Co-design, Integrated Control of Heterogeneous Computers in the Cloud Nam Sung Kim*, Josep Torrellas* Eun K Lee
Accelerator for Irregular Computations Josep Torrellas* Jose Moreira
Robots on the (Mobile) Edge and in the Hybrid Cloud Nancy Amato*, Katie Driggs-Campbell*, Liangyan Gui*, Julia Hockenmaier*, Robin Kravets*, Marco Morales*, Lawrence Rauchwerger*, Yuxiong Wang* Dhiraj Joshi, Dinesh Verma, Jose Moreira, Nirmit Desai, Shiqiang Wang, Divyesh Jadav, Luis Bathen
Knowledge Engine for Catalysts for Carbon Dioxide Conversion and Utilization Jiawei Han*, Chengxiang Zhai*, Jaemin Kim, Chinmoy Baroi Stacey Gifford, Bruce Elmegreem, Geeth de Mel
Automation and AI for Organic and Polymeric Materials Discovery Huimin Zhao, Ying Diao, Charles Schroeder, Nick Jackson, Martin Burke, Jian Peng* Zhao
*Computer Science faculty and affiliate faculty