RESEARCH & INNOVATION
A scientific visionary retires .
BY XOCHITL ROJAS-ROCHA
WHERE DOES one begin with Larry Smarr ? He ’ s a pioneer in supercomputing , an advocate for research partnerships that stretch across disciplines and sectors , and a man who turned his own body into a laboratory in the name of science .
It may be most logical to start at the turn of the millennium , when Smarr became the founding director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology ( Calit2 ), a cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and education institute with divisions on our campus and UC Irvine . Smarr has dedicated the last 20 years of his career to shaping the future of this innovation hub , but his impact goes far beyond the bounds of this campus , and certainly surpasses the limits of this page . So here are the highlights , the “ greatest hits ” of this esteemed innovator :
The Great Collaborator Leading Calit2 was a capstone in Smarr ’ s long career connecting seemingly disparate fields of study .
As an experiment to address society ’ s most complex challenges with a multidisciplinary mindset , Smarr took an active approach in molding the institute , which includes UC San Diego ’ s Qualcomm Institute ( QI ), by seeking out new partnerships , deconstructing hierarchies , and opening facilities to the campus and public . The institute is now the preeminent place where students , faculty , the community , and companies ranging from startups to large corporations , collaborate to apply advanced technologies to a wide variety of challenges .
A Measured Man Smarr is also the man who , upon experiencing worsening intestinal pain , used skills he ’ d honed during his prior 25 years as an astrophysicist to analyze a time-series of his own blood and stool biomarkers , leading him to a diagnosis — chronic Crohn ’ s disease . He then pulled together a collaborative team of expert UC San Diego doctors and QI research staff to create an interactive 3-D visualization of his abdominal organs to help preplan his own surgery , techniques now being used to improve surgical outcomes for others . With UC San Diego ’ s Rob Knight and the Knight Lab , Smarr is now exploring how his gut microbiome ecology changed over the course of his disease and throughout his recovery , including the impact of dietary changes .
Big Data Visionary Perhaps one of Smarr ’ s most enduring legacies derives from his ability to recognize shifts in culture and technology before they happen . Even before “ Big Data ” became a buzzword , Smarr recognized the need to develop much faster networks that could handle the exponential increase in all types of data . This led to his ongoing project , the NSF-funded Pacific Research Platform , a “ superhighway ” of cyberinfrastructure that enables superfast data sharing between researchers in California and around the world .
Learn more about Smarr ’ s career and the projects of the Qualcomm Institute at tritonmag . com / smarr
16 TRITON | FALL 2020