Former UC President Dynes Views CalIT2 as a New Paradigm for Innovation

At a luncheon that followed the La Jolla Research and Innovation Summit on Friday, I sat with Bob Dynes, the former President of the University of California system, who began talking about the formation of CalIT2 (Cal-IT-squared) almost a decade ago.

These days, the research center also known as the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology is playing an increasingly central role in multi-disciplinary advances that span academic departments, campuses, and even industries. The prevalence of CalIT2’s influence was evident throughout presentations made at the summit, which was organized for venture investors as a showcase of San Diego’s innovative capabilities. Sony Electronics, for example, used an algorithm developed at CalIT2’s machine perception lab as the basis for the “shutter smile” technology in the company’s latest generation of consumer digital cameras.

“Who would ever have guessed that CalIT2 would look the way it does today!” exclaimed Dynes, who spent 22 years at Bell Labs before arriving at UC San Diego as a physics professor in 1991. Dynes became UCSD’s chancellor in 1996, and told me he began working to create the institute—and to recruit founding director (and Xconomist) Larry Smarr—in 1999.

CalIT2 is one of four institutes for science and innovation that California Gov. Gray Davis officially launched in 2002 by signing legislation that provided $308 million in lease-revenue bonds. Since then, CalIT2 has come to embody Smarr’s ambitious vision for tackling daunting, large-scale problems.

“What we’ve succeeded in is this idea of institutional innovation,” Smarr said in an interview. By using the power of high-speed networks and high-performance computing, Smarr said CalIT2 can take on seemingly intractable problems in everything from molecular biology to atmospheric science by assembling multidisciplinary teams of the best minds, whether or not they are on UC campuses. He calls it a “persistent framework for collaboration.”

New buildings for CalIT2 were built at … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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