David R. Swanson

In Memoriam


David R. Swanson (August 13, 1965 - August 11, 2019)

Founding Director, Holland Computing Center

David R. Swanson

David Swanson was the founding director of the Holland Computing Center (HCC) and a research full professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

David founded the Research Computing Facility (RCF) at UNL in 1998. Originally envisioned to be a centralized service for scientific computing at the UNL Campus, RCF started small with only David and one other employee and an SGI Origin 2000. RCF built the Prairiefire cluster in 2002 to service the research needs of UNL professors and students. Debuting at 107 on the Top 500 supercomputer list in 2002, Prairiefire remained the flagship cluster at UNL for almost a decade and over numerous upgrades all overseen by David.

In 2005, RCF was selected to host an USCMS Tier2 facility. This new resource was to facilitate the analysis of data from the Large Hadron Collider located at CERN. David's leadership was a primary reason why RCF was selected for this prestigious honor. The Tier2 facility required the building of another cluster resource, this one named Red, and expanded the permanent RCF staff.

In 2009, under the leadership of Swanson, RCF was merged with the Holland Computing Center (HCC) located at the Peter Kiewit Institute (PKI) in Omaha. The newly formed HCC would serve as a computing resource for all the University of Nebraska Campuses. Along with the HCC moniker, David inherited another supercomputing resource in Firefly, a 1151 node supercomputer located in HCC's facility in Omaha. The expansion of HCC to span multiple campuses and sites marked a significant moment in the history of HCC. David garnered attention and recognition from university leadership and campus leaders for the successful merger of RCF and HCC.

In 2013, the Crane high performance compute cluster was commissioned. Debuting at 475th on the Top 500 list in 2013, Crane supplanted Firefly as the flagship cluster at HCC until its decommissioning in June of 2023.

In addition to advancing research computing on campus, Swanson participated in collaborations within the state, region, nationally, and internationally. One example of his collaborative spirit was his participation and eventual leadership in the Open Science Grid (OSG). Swanson assumed the position of OSG Council Chair in 2016, where he played a vital role in helping provide guidance and direction to the OSG. Swanson created an environment that lives on in HCC with continuing contributions to eminent research computing organizations.

During Swanson’s tenure, the Holland Computing Center assisted in a number of significant research studies, including a groundbreaking review of gravitational waves streaming from a 1.3 billion-year-old collision of black holes; analysis leading to the discovery of the Higgs Boson; modeling that showed water-repellent surfaces can improve ice removal; cracking the code into what makes a bestselling novel; and allowing musical groups the chance to practice in real-time from studios in Lincoln and DeKalb, Illinois.

David Swanson created and delivered courses on Cluster and Grid Computing, as well as Parallel Programming, at UNL. Five Ph.D. students and four Masters students have graduated under his supervision.

David Swanson’s legacy continues in cultivating enduring support for research computing and enabled scientific discoveries in Nebraska and beyond. In May 2022, Swan, a new cluster named in honor of Swanson, was made available at HCC to provide cutting-edge resources at no cost to researchers, instructors, and students at the University of Nebraska system. The OSG established the OSG David Swanson Award to honor David for his distinguished contribution to Campus research across the country through the advancement of distributed high-throughput computing and the OSG. Furthermore, the Dr. David R Swanson Travel Award has been created through an endowment as a memorial to David's extraordinary accomplishments and legacy. This award is granted annually to one or more students, enabling them to attend conferences and present their research endeavors.

Swanson received a doctorate as a computational chemist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Prior to returning to the university, Swanson served as an NSF-NATO Fellow at the Technical University of Wroclaw in Poland and as an NRC Research Fellow at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

At the time of his death, August 11, 2019, HCC had a full-time staff of 16 computing professionals spanning three machine rooms and two office sites. The tremendous growth seen over the years was all due to the outstanding leadership and charisma of David Swanson.