In 1973, he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago. With Dan Sandin, he founded the Circle Graphics Habitat, now known as the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL). At UIC, DeFanti further developed the GRASS language, and later created an improved version, ZGRASS, implemented on the low-cost Datamax UV-1. The GRASS and ZGRASS languages have been used by a number of computer artists, including Larry Cuba, in his film 3/78 and the animated Death Star sequence for Star Wars. Later significant work done at EVL includes development of the graphics system for the Bally home computer, invention of the first data glove, co-editing the 1987 NSF-sponsored report Visualization in Scientific Computing that outlined the emerging discipline of scientific visualization, invention of PHSColograms, and invention of the CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment. DeFanti's current work includes heading the TransLight/StarLight international multi-gigabit networking project and co-directing the OptIPuter optical networking and visualization project.
DeFanti contributed greatly to the growth of the SIGGRAPH organization and conference. He served as Chair of the group from 1981 to 1985, co-organized early film and video presentations (which became the Electronic Theatre), and in 1979 started the SIGGRAPH Video Review, a video archive of computer graphics research.
DeFanti is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. He has received the 1988 ACM Outstanding Contribution Award, the 2000 SIGGRAPH Outstanding Service Award, and the UIC Inventor of the Year Award.
1989. "Computer-Generated Barrier-Strip Autostereography". With others. In: Proceedings of SPIE, Three-Dimensional Visualization and Display Technologies, S S Fisher|W E Robbins, 1083, 65-75, 09/01/1989 - 09/01/1989
1991. "Simulacra/Stimulacra::Fractal". With others. In: Art Futura. 01/01/1991
1994. "Foreword", With Maxine D. Brown. In: Scientific Visualization : Advances and challenges. Lawrence J. Rosenblum (ed.). Academic Press Academic Press, 1994. pp. xv-xvi.
Papers and articles, a selection
DeFanti, T. A.; Sandin, D. J.; Ainsworth, R. A. (1976). "Control structures for performance graphics". The papers of the ACM symposium on Graphic languages. ACM. pp. 79–84.
DeFanti, T. (June 1976). "The Digital Component of the Circle Graphics Habitat". AFIPS '76: Proceedings of the national computer conference and exposition. pp. 195–203.
Campbell, Graham; DeFanti, Thomas A.; Frederiksen, Jeff; Joyce, Stephen A.; Leske, Lawrence A. (August 1986). "Two bit/pixel full color encoding". SIGGRAPH '86: Proceedings of the 13th annual conference on Computer graphics and interactive techniques. ACM. pp. 215–223.
DeFanti, Thomas A.; Brown, Maxine D.; McCormick, Bruce H. (August 1989). "Visualization: Expanding Scientific and Engineering Research Opportunities". Computer. IEEE. 22: 12–25. doi:10.1109/2.35195.
Hart, John C.; DeFanti, Thomas A. (July 1991). "Efficient antialiased rendering of 3-D linear fractals". SIGGRAPH '91: Proceedings of the 18th annual conference on Computer graphics and interactive techniques. ACM. pp. 91–1008.
DeFanti, Thomas A.; Sandin, Daniel J.; Cruz-Neira, Carolina (October 1993). "A 'Room' with a 'View'". Spectrum. IEEE: 30–33, 39.
DeFanti, Tom; Stevens, Rick (1999), "Teleimmersion", in Foster, Ian; Kesselman, Carl, The Grid: Blueprint for a New Computing Infrastructure, Morgan Kaufmann, pp. 131–155, ISBN1-55860-475-8