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Hal Does P.R. for Illinois Supercomputers

August 26, 1986|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

Sometimes it takes a supersalesman to sell a supercomputer.

While the UC San Diego Supercomputer Center is relying on a team of supercomputer professionals to attract corporate support, another university with a National Science Foundation-funded supercomputer center has enlisted Hal, the scheming supercomputer in Arthur C. Clarke's "2001, a Space Odyssey."

"Hal . . . is knowledgeably identified as a native of Urbana-Champaign," according to a full-page advertisement that the Urbana-Champaign-based University of Illinois placed in the Feb. 3 Wall Street Journal.

The ad, which traced Illinois' role as a computing leader since the first computer appeared in Urbana-Champaign in 1951, drew a "very positive" response, according to John Stevenson, who spent 25 years with the Bell System's marketing department before joining the university last year as the center's corporate relations officer.

The university followed up that advertisement with personal letters to chief executive officers at the nation's top 500 corporations, drawing more than 100 responses. Negotiations are under way with 54 companies, 31 of which already have sent executives to the campus for a firsthand look at Hal's relatives.

So far the campaign has attracted more than $3 million in equipment donations from companies such as IBM, Apple and Digital Equipment Corp.

On Aug. 15, a team of scientists from Kodak, which signed a $3-million three-year research agreement with Illinois, took up residence in Urbana-Champaign, where they are working side by side with Illinois' supercomputer experts.

Illinois also has attracted $25 million from the state. In October, the university plans to add a second supercomputer at its National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Stevenson said.

Using its lower-key approach, UCSD has attracted more than $1.5 million in donated equipment, a $1-million three-year research agreement from San Diego-based Aerojet General Corp., and smaller research contracts with Science Applications Inc., M/A-Com Linkabit, GA Technologies and Los Angeles-based Omnibus Inc.

Consequently, there remains "plenty of opportunity" for companies to sign up for time reserved for industrial applications, according to Robert Randall, manager of resource development at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

To build industrial interest, the center is inviting chief executives and scientific personnel from corporations throughout Southern California to a dedication ceremony Sept. 8.

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