The National Research Platform (NRP), a partnership of more than 50 institutions that facilitates high-speed data access for science and computation, held its fourth conference (4NRP) on the UC San Diego campus February 8-10. Kicking off the program at the 4NRP reception was an event at the Birch Aquarium to celebrate the long and distinguished career of Larry Smarr, who was handing over his leadership of the Pacific Research Platform (PRP) to Frank Wuerthwein, leader of the NRP.
Larry Smarr is the founding director of California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and has been a Department of Computer Science and Engineering faculty member in the Jacobs School of Engineering since August 2000. In July 2020, he stepped down as Calit2 director and retired to become a Distinguished Professor Emeritus (see UC San Diego Today story).
Louis Fox, President and CEO of CENIC, California’s Research and Education Network, which formed the optical backplane of the PRP, sent a written tribute to the guest of honor:
“Tonight, we gather to celebrate an innovative and pioneering scientist, Dr. Larry Smarr. His myriad accomplishments in astrophysics, scientific computing and visualization, supercomputer applications, Internet infrastructure, metagenomics and personalized medicine – any one of which would have been enough for a distinguished career – are, in the aggregate, breathtaking.
“A visionary and a doer; an architect and a leader of groundbreaking organizations; a bold impresario and a gentle spirit; advisor to all of our most important national scientific organizations and always an enthusiastic supporter of individual talent and innovation wherever he finds it – Larry’s impact is global and national, local and personal. Look around this evening at the diverse and accomplished individuals who are gathered to honor him and consider the many partnerships inspired by this brilliant and generous soul. Larry has shared so much of himself, both figuratively and literally, with us all. We are in his debt. And we are fortunate to have joined so many imaginative journeys with him. We look forward to many more.”
UC San Diego Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering Albert Pisano was master of ceremonies for a series of speakers, each of whom reflected on different aspects of Larry’s career.
Here are brief excerpts from the evening’s remarks:
“The first 10 years of Larry’s work was in theoretical physics… So I spent part of today looking up what Larry has done from 1973 until 1983. [During that time] Larry authored five physics papers with more than 500 citations [each]. … Of these papers, his highest cited established the [Smarr mass formula for rotating black holes].”
— Frank Wuerthwein, UC San Diego Professor in Physics and Director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC)
“When I first met Larry, I read his paper first. It wasn’t a theoretical physics paper; it was [about] the supercomputer famine in the U.S. I was on the NSF Task Force for Advanced Computational Facilities … Larry’s paper definitely hit home.”
— Jim Bottum, Larry’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications Deputy Director for 20 years and then Chief Information Officer at Purdue and Clemson
“Larry’s gift is for marrying [applications to] advanced technology to help domain scientists solve problems.”
— Maxine Brown, ACM SIGGRAPH ’92 Chair and Director Emeritus of the Electronic Visualization Lab at UI Chicago (with images of Donna Cox, Art and Design Professor at University of Illinois (UI) Urbana-Champaign, and Tom DeFanti, Research Scientist at the Qualcomm Institute, Computer Science Professor at UI Chicago, and founder and former co-director of the Electronic Visualization Lab)
“Larry is a visionary, and he will never stop being a visionary. People will think he’s crazy, but they’ll listen to him. If they don’t listen to him, that’s their problem.”
— Bob Dynes, UC San Diego Chancellor when Smarr was hired, then UC President
“UC San Diego would not be as great if it weren’t for Larry saying ‘yes’ [to leading the proposal for Calit2].”
— Bob Conn, former Dean of UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, then President and CEO of The Kavli Foundation
“As a venture capitalist, I always thought Larry’s talent could have produced many large, successful companies. However, he … wanted to dedicate his energies to academia, and he preferred academia where there was freedom to share his work and not be constrained by profit motives. He once told me that he’s like an academic entrepreneur trapped in a public university. And I’m glad, because in the end that has benefited us all the most.”
— Drew Senyei, San Diego physician, investor, and Co-Chair of the Calit2 Advisory Board
“From putting the first supercomputer center into academia to understanding our universe, to his inspiring leadership of Calit2, to turning his colectomy into a research project that literally put the first [3D] MRI into the operating room for an advanced robotic surgery that will one day become the standard of care … Larry really has been an evangelist who has married research, technology, a future focus, with the idea of doing good for society.”
— Julie Meier Wright, who served as California’s Secretary of Trade & Commerce, then CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and a member of the Calit2 Advisory Board
“Little did I realize how [the outreach effort starting at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign] would flower into working with Larry in advancing and expanding underrepresented participation in advanced technologies and in building a more inclusive cyberinfrastructure [for 25 years]. My thoughts about Larry always include motivation, inspiration, infrastructure development, engagement and inclusivity. And I want to underscore inclusivity here.”
— Richard Alo, Dean, College of Science and Technology at Florida A & M University
“Many times I have to give comments at a dinner in which we celebrate someone who has done something in the past, and we remember that it was in the past. This is the first time in my 10 years here … that I actually have to say it’s not in the past. I’m eager to see and hear what’s coming in the future.”
— Albert Pisano, Dean of UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering
Larry was given an opportunity to address the audience at the end of the proceedings. He thanked the many people who have supported his endeavors over the years, including Pisano, DeFanti, and Larry’s wife of almost 50 years, Distinguished Professor Emeritus Janet Smarr.
“As I think about all the wonderful things I’ve heard tonight and look at all of you, all of this is about collaboration,” Larry said. “It’s not about me. None of what I have done was done except with collaboration and partnership with some of the most extraordinary people in the world.”