Crain’s article on inventing the (future) internet

September 6th, 2011

Categories: Networking

Joel Mambretti, Northwestern University
Joel Mambretti, Northwestern University


The September 6, 2011 issue of CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS features an article by Paul Merrion titled “Joel Mambretti, inventor of the Internet, really.” While that title is a bit overarching, the article does go on to qualify Mambretti’s networking contributions for research and education communities - locally, regionally, nationally and internationally - resulting in Chicago’s reputation today as one of the world’s leading advanced networking exchanges worldwide.

And, Maxine Brown, associate director of the UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory, is quoted in the article, attesting to her long-time collaborator’s creativity and perseverance. As Brown explains, “Joe did more than speed up interactions; he created them out of nothing. He’s not afraid of jumping in with things that never existed before.”

UIC and Mambretti have worked together for several decades to ensure that this campus, as well as other Illinois research and education institutions and government laboratories, have the best networking available. UIC began collaborating with him in the 1980s, and was one of the founding members of MREN (Midwest Research & Education Network), which he created in the early 1990s. At that time, Mambretti arranged it so that MREN was hosted by Ameritech.

So, when Tom DeFanti and Maxine Brown of UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in 1997 for international networking, they built on Mambretti’s successes and selected Ameritech to interconnect European, Asian and South American networks with those in the U.S. By the year 2000, given the rapid advancements in information technology, DeFanti, Brown, Mambretti and others wanted to explore more advanced networking possibilities - and though Ameritech was supportive, the company encouraged them to pursue on their own, as there was no “business case” for unproven technology that was research focused rather than production oriented. NSF renewed the international networking grant to UIC in 2000, and Northwestern University provided Mambretti with a recently vacated data center facility on its downtown campus, and the StarLight international network exchange was born.

As the Crain’s article goes on to state, “the Chicago hub known as StarLight has 120 connections at 10 gigabits apiece and soon will have multiple 100-gigabit connections” - making it the largest global research and education network exchange in the world. It’s nice that Crain’s recognizes Mambretti’s contributions, as well as the involvement of UIC.

Read the complete story in Crain’s Chicago Business

Note: Last year, Maxine Brown received recognition for the role she and DeFanti played in the development of StarLight. For more information, see: