College of LAS « Illinois

Geography and Geographic Information Science

With a Little Help from My Friends

Economist demonstrates how an important principle applies even in unlikely scenarios.


U of I geography professor Shaowen Wang is linking those with personal computers to the power of supercomputers in hopes of better understanding climate, predicting tsunamis, and endless other possibilities in what’s shaping to be a new era in map and geospatial analysis.

With help from a multimillion National Science Foundation grant, Wang and his research team have been developing frameworks that connect users to a national, collaborative network of supercomputer resources—called cyberinfrastructure—that can process large amounts of geographical data at high speeds.

Wang foresees it greatly enhancing what users of common Geographical Information Systems (GIS), such as Google Maps, could do with their personal computers and even smart phones.

“The idea is this notion of cyberinfrastructure, meaning the sum of the parts is bigger than that of the individuals,” says Wang, who is also a senior research scientist at U of I’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications. “You don’t worry about where the service is housed, how the services work; you just enjoy access to information and computing resources.”

Wang founded U of I’s Cyberinfrastructure and Geospatial Information Laboratory in 2007.

He anticipates more breakthroughs and wider usage of his software developments, such as the ability for smart phones to direct disaster victims along safe evacuation routes, and for meter-by-meter analysis of where climate change and floodwaters will impact.

Summer 2012