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Larry Smarr is the founding director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), a partnership between UCSD and UCI. With the dedication of Calit2's building at UCSD last month, Smarr, who is also the Harry E. Gruber professor in the Jacobs School's Department of Computer Science and Engineering, has been showcasing the institute's cutting-edge research projects and facilities to the world. In this interview, Smarr discusses the connection between Calit2 and industry, the importance of modern networks, new research at Calit2, and one of his personal passions, horticulture.

Q: Let’s talk about the ‘t’ in Calit2: Telecommunications. In a recent New York Times article, you talked about the ultimate importance of the modern network. How is Calit2 exploring the use of this newly emerging, high-speed network?

Smarr: Already we’ve seen how the wired Internet has flattened the world and is radically transforming many aspects of business. But this is based on 10- to 20-year-old technology. Calit2 is exploring vastly more powerful telecommunications technologies that will create a Cyberinfrastructure backbone for a new era of global data-intensive science and wireless technologies that are extending the Internet throughout the physical world. At Calit2, we not only have researchers in all these areas of advanced telecommunications, but we also have application leaders in areas that will be transformed by these emerging telecommunications capabilities, such as digitally enabled genomic medicine, intelligent transportation, the environment and civil infrastructure, public safety, and networked computer games.

Q: We’ve heard about the numerous collaborations going on within Calit2. Are all the collaborative partnerships already established, or are there opportunities for other interested UCSD departments to be involved in research at Calit2?

Smarr: Since the beginning Calit2 has been a collaborative framework across the UCSD and UCI campuses. During the last 5 years, from when we won the competition until now, with the two building being occupied on the two campuses, Calit2 has set out to discover new kinds of collaboration among two dozen departments on each campus, as well as with industry and the community. While we have a very robust set of nearly 75 projects underway, each of these is for a limited duration, and we fully expect new collaborations to arise and take their place, so we are constantly having meetings with faculty to explore innovative ideas for future projects.

Q: Visitors have been treated to several events featuring super-high definition 4K cinema. Can you talk about the uses for this technology, and let us know if the community can look forward any more public events in that remarkable theater?

Smarr: Calit2 is primarily a research institute, but of course we will have events to which the public will be invited, such as our building dedication. The digital cinema theater is quite unique, in that it has 24-channel digital audio as well as, by the end of the year, the first super-high-definition projection system in the United States. We use this not so much for showing Spiderman II, which was digitally created in the 4K standard, but rather for exploring how the emerging technology of digital cinema can be applied to a wide range of scientific research and new media art forms.

Q: Please discuss the relationship between Calit2 and industry partnerships. In particular, how will Calit2 balance the sometimes conflicting needs of industry and academia?

Smarr: UCOP (UC Office of the President) set out the requirements for Calit2’s structure during the 2000 competition. A critical component of what UCOP wanted the new institute to do was to explore more ways of involving California industries in collaboration with UC faculty. In fact, to be selected, we had to achieve a 2 to 1 match from industry and federal funds to the $100 million for the capital cost of the two Calit2 buildings. Calit2 has been quite successful in carrying out this mission for UC. We have not found any conflicts, but rather enthusiastic support from industry. The way that industry works with Calit2 and our faculty includes support of our students; establishing chaired professorships; support of workshops and scientific symposia; joint research between faculty and industrial researchers; and access to pre-commercial advanced equipment.

Q: Can you tell us about any new research happening at Calit2 that you find particularly interesting?

Smarr: One of the most exciting areas is a new National Science Foundation grant, called LOOKING, for Calit2 to work with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Washington to prototype a new generation of networked ocean observatories. Another area that is just taking off is CalRadio, which is an open-source “smart” radio that researchers and students can use to experiment with novel forms of software in wireless systems combining radios and computers.

Q: Calit2 designed and built two buildings, one at UCSD and one at UCI. What was the purpose in splitting the institute between two campuses, and what is the extent of the connection/collaboration between the two?

Smarr: One of the most difficult parts of bringing up Calit2 from a blank piece of paper over the last five years ago was the requirement by UCOP that we create a new mode of collaboration between two UC campuses. This has meant that I split my time being at UCSD and UCI, enabling me to have individual conversations with more than 100 faculty members. What you find is that there are significant cultural differences between the two campuses, but yet there are wonderful unrealized opportunities for collaboration. It essentially was not anyone’s job before to seek out these opportunities and facilitate the faculty coming together to pursue federal grants jointly. One of the ideas behind having a building on each campus is that this gives us an opportunity to explore the innovative uses of optical-fiber telecommunications systems – to ‘tie’ the two buildings into a common ‘collaboratory.’

Q: You are one of the leading pioneers in the world of technology, yet your parents ran a home florist business, and you grew up on acres of Missouri woodlands and gardens. How has this shaped your life, and have you kept a close connection to the soil?

Smarr: I feel that growing up in the Midwest and living at home for my first 18 years gave me a strong set of values and work ethic. It also gave me a great appreciation of the natural world. I suppose this also has been one reason that we have stressed environmental monitoring at Calit2 in support of more sustainable environmental management. I’ve also continued to pursue my interest in flowers, which here in southern California includes growing large numbers of orchids at our home. I love a climate in which I can have blooming flowers outside all year round!

To see some of Larry Smarr’s horticultural projects, visit his personal website and click on Gardens: http://www.jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/~lsmarr/


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