Smarr Promotes IT in Symposium Address

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Irvine, Calif., May 24, 2007 –   Calit2 Director Larry Smarr told a lunchtime crowd at UC Irvine last week that information technology will be vital to solving the future’s energy and environmental problems.

“Energy and the Environment,” the sixth annual engineering industry research symposium, sponsored by The Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UCI May 15-16, attracted a cross-section of guests from academia, industry and the community.

Larry Smarr
Larry Smarr

In Smarr’s address, he noted that life itself resulted from information pervading the physical world of the atoms that comprise the DNA molecule. He explained that the patterning mechanism of DNA base pairs allows molecules to “have memory” and to self-replicate, creating living matter. “That is a good example of what happens when you let information technology get loose in the physical world,” he said, referring to IT’s binary structure.

He told the audience that Calit2 was developed as a multidisciplinary research institute that studies many applications – biomedicine, entertainment, civil infrastructure and transportation – that will be transformed by information technology and telecommunications. He also thanked symposium organizers Soroosh Sorooshian and Scott Samuelsen, UCI professors, for their longtime leadership with Calit2 in the areas of the water cycle and energy systems.

Big changes are afoot, according to Smarr. “I believe that as we sit here discussing these issues today, the world is experiencing a real tidal wave of transformation in all of these underlying areas,” he said.

Smarr, a member of the bipartisan Broadband Task Force created by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year, said that California is about to undergo a once-in-three-decade rebuilding of its physical infrastructure that should incorporate IT at its core.

Larry Smarr 2
The Calit2 director makes a point.
He urged the audience to think about the power of sensors and the importance of simulations. “As you start to think about building intelligence into this “dumb,” physical world, imagine … putting sensors inside levees, bridges, and viaducts, that can measure critical variables and send the information in real time back through a system that records the data… and has massive computing capability that can do simulations of those systems.”

He suggested that California ’s climate, hydrology, energy distribution and transportation systems are good examples of where these simulations can promote solutions, mentioning UCI’s centers of excellence for simulation in both earth science and transportation. “We’re in the very early stages of this becoming a strategic part of many of these activities but we are starting,” he stated.

He also mentioned the importance of nanotechnology and MEMs (micro-electro-mechanical systems) in building tomorrow’s ubiquitous sensornets. “There’s a perfect storm coming of innovation and it is going to upset all of our preconceived notions that we carry around.”

Smarr championed the use of information technology to make buildings more energy efficient, mentioning the Calit2 Building at UCI as “one of the most instrumented buildings you’ll find anywhere.” He also mentioned a new laboratory being constructed on the UCSD campus by the J. Craig Venter Institute that will be one of the “greenest” buildings ever built.

He reminded the crowd that teamwork and multidisciplinary collaboration are imperative. “No single professor is going to do any of the things I’ve just talked about,” he said. “And we have to train a whole new generation of students in multidisciplinary, real-world problems.

“That’s what Calit2 was set up for,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of early successes but it’s really a new approach to problem-solving and it’s one that I’d love to see as many of you as possible engaged in.”