Herman M. Dieckamp Center for Reliable, Safe, and Trustworthy Systems

Center Activities

Grounded on a generous donation from University of Illinois alum Herman M. Dieckamp, the Herman M. Dieckamp Center for Reliable, Safe, and Trustworthy Systems is engaged in research and education in areas where such contributions will significantly impact systems such as power generation (nuclear and renewable), electric power transmission and distribution, emergency communication, and transportation.  The Center enhances the workforce in this space, through support of post-doctoral researchers and both graduate and undergraduate students.

Nuclear Power Generation

Center affiliates have partnered with key faculty in UIUC’s Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering in assessing the cyber needs of micro-nuclear generators.  The partnership has led to the development of white papers and grant proposals that focus on the need for such systems to have a highly assured networking infrastructure, one where new concepts and techniques can be used to protect these systems from accidental or intentional interference through its cyber under-pinning.


The Center has worked closely with the US Coast Guard on a project that assesses the impact on a shipping port of cyber-induced interference.  Developing models of various inter-dependent systems within a port (including both the interface with the sea through ships and the interface with inland infrastructure through ground-based shipping), we have developed a tool that enables port operators to assess their risk and take preventative actions.

Power Transmission and Distribution

Cyber-security in the power grid is critical because so much of modern life depends on the grid. The University of Illinois has worked in the area for over twenty years.  The Herman M. Dieckamp Center for Reliable, Safe, and Trustworthy Systems has specifically supported two activities.   One has its roots in a program that UIUC worked on for the Department of Defense, where it created the cyber infrastructure for running exercises involving attacks and defenses on actual power grid equipment and an actual power grid on an isolated island in New York State.  The exercises created significant interest from entities who would like to participate in such exercises but, because of the realism and costs, cannot set one up in the same locale.  Center-supported personnel are developing a device that emulates the signaling from the physical power grid and feeds its signals to production equipment so that an exercise can be held without touching the actual power grid at all (aside from the power draw).   A second activity seeks to make the interactions of devices within a control center more trustworthy by using trust-development algorithms that are highly trustworthy by virtue of being embedded in specialized extensions to those devices.

Emergency Communication

Communication among first responders during traumatic events requires trustworthy communication among them.  The Center has recently initiated activity looking into means of providing that trust, including assessment of interoperability and of trustworthy and accurate timing signals.


Herman M. Dieckamp Endowed Chair in Engineering

The Herman M. Dieckamp Endowed Chair in Engineering was made possible by the generous support of Herman Dieckamp.  The Herman M. Dieckamp Endowment Fund supports the endowed chair position, student internships with industry partners, professional development support, infrastructure support, and other activities that enhance the university’s expertise and reputation in system reliability, security, and trust.

Herman Dieckamp was born in 1928 in Jacksonville, Illinois, the son of German emigrants Frederick and Marie Maier Dieckamp.  He attended a one-room parochial school.  He graduated in 1950 from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering physics.  He chose Illinois in part because of its engineering program.  With a strong background in the fundamentals of math and physics, he positioned himself for a thriving career in energy – a field then undergoing transformative changes with the emergence of nuclear technology.

After nearly 40 years in the nuclear energy industry, Herman retired as president and chief operating officer of General Public Utilities.  He believed there’s an important place in the energy industry for safe nuclear technology and hoped his investment in building fail-safe systems at Illinois would create “extreme reliability” in nuclear plans and other critical infrastructure.  Herman passed away on Friday, August 16, 2019, at the age of 91.

Faculty:  David M. Nicol

David M. Nicol
David M. Nicol

David M. Nicol is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and since 2011 has served as the Director of the Information Trust Institute (ITI), the focal point at UIUC for large-scale research projects in areas related to the trustworthiness of "systems", which include cyber-physical systems, industrial control systems, and most specifically, critical infrastructures such as electrical power, oil and gas,  and communications.  He is the Principal Investigator for the DOE funded "Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium" -- a 7-year project involving 14 universities and national laboratories -- focused on research leading to an impact on industrial practice and products.  He is also the Principal Investigator (and Director) of the DHS supported "Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute" (also funded for seven years), which is focused on research leading to an industrial and societal impact on the resilience of critical infrastructures to deleterious events, both accidental and intentional.  He is the architect and Principal Investigator of the "Trustworthy and Secure Cyber-Plexus" (TSCP) project funded (in Singapore) by Singapore's National Research Foundation under their CREATE program.  TSCP does research leading to technologies that improve the security of legacy electrical power systems.  Nicol serves as the Director of the University of Illinois' Advanced Digital Sciences Centre in Singapore, which is home to TCSP.

Nicol develops technologies that assess the trustworthiness of critical infrastructures and assess the risk of those critical infrastructures to accidental and intentionally generated upset events.  He brings to these tasks career-long experience in developing means of modeling large-scale systems and using high-performance parallel computation to evaluate those models.  His ground-breaking work in this area led to provably optimal techniques for synchronizing computational resources along a virtual time axis, techniques which are encoded in a federal standard and are in widespread use by industry and government.

Nicol's research focuses on problems related to creating and accurately coordinating the representation of critical infrastructure systems, which include analytic and simulation models of the physical structures, and how these representations are affected by models of the sensors, control devices, and communication infrastructure.  These representations merge the evaluation of simulation models, execution of code from real devices, and the functioning of actual devices themselves.  He researches means by which such systems can be instrumented to provide provably effective monitoring of system activity and protection against upset events and means by which lack of knowledge or certainty about the composition and state of these systems impact our ability to do a risk assessment.

Nicol is co-founder of the company Network Perception whose products are widely used in the electric power industry, particularly for NERC CIP audits --NERC licenses these products and makes them available to all its auditors.  Nicol designed the algorithms that determine the connectivity a networked system allows and to assess the risk that connectivity poses to the electrical system.  He wrote an awarded patent for risk assessment and has filed another patent on protecting the privacy of configurations under analysis.

Nicol holds a B.A. in Mathematics from Carleton College and an M.S. and Ph.D. degree in Computer Science from the University of Virginia.  Prior to joining the University of Illinois, he held faculty positions in the Departments of Computer Science at the College of William and Mary and Dartmouth College. He was elected Fellow of the IEEE and Fellow of the ACM for his research contributions and is the inaugural recipient of the ACM SIGSIM Distinguished Contributions Award.  He has held national (and international) technical leadership positions such as Editor-in-Chief of ACM Transactions on Modeling and Computer Simulation, Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Security and Privacy, membership in the Sandia National Laboratories Energy and Homeland Security External Advisory Board, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratories External Advisory Board on Cyber-security.