Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Meet the Faculty: Lawrence Larson

Integrated circuits, wireless communications, computer engineering — Larry Larson had a rich research background when he began taking on senior administrative responsibilities at the University of California–San Diego. The chance to be the first dean of Brown’s School of Engineering was an exciting prospect.

Larry Larson comes to Brown University as more than faculty. He comes as the founding dean of the newly created Brown School of Engineering.

Larson started as dean on July 1. After a summer on the job, he has enunciated a vision for the school: Recruit the best faculty; build modern, expanded space for research; in time, move into a new building.
“When really great people come to a place, what are they looking for?” Larson said. “They’re looking for great people to latch onto. They’re looking for space to become world leaders in research. That’s the vision I’m trying to help Brown University realize. I have bought into that.”

In a way, this is the third and final act of a distinguished career for the 53-year-old Larson. For 16 years, he worked at Hughes Research Laboratories. There, he pioneered the development of analog integrated circuits and new generations of low-noise high-electron mobility transistors (HEMTs), as well as microwave integrated circuits in SiGe HBT technology.

In a presentation late last year titled “Wireless Everywhere and in Everything,” Larson predicted that within a decade wireless devices and sensors will be so inexpensive that they can be embedded into almost any manufactured object and located almost anywhere through GPS technology. “It’s not implausible to think that pretty much everything we think about in a cell phone is going to be on something the size of the head of a pin,” he said.

After Hughes, Larson entered academia, joining the faculty at the University of California–San Diego in 1996. From 2001 to 2006, he was director of the UCSD Center for Wireless Communications. During his tenure, the center had an annual budget of approximately $2.5 million that supported 25 faculty members and approximately 45 Ph.D. students, as well as partnering with a dozen companies. He also chaired the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering and was the first faculty member to hold the Communications Industry Chair.

Larson said he was quite comfortable at UCSD, with no plans to move, until he heard about the opening at Brown. It was the chance, he recalled, of leading a major research enterprise at an Ivy League school.

“President Simmons gave me a vision of a really excellent university that wants to grow its science research and engineering, while staying true to its excellence in education and the liberal arts,” Larson said.

He continued, “Now, I’m trying to leverage all the things I learned in research to the administrative side. I’m at the point in my life when I really want to make an impact and especially at a place like Brown.”

Although the majority of his time will be on the administrative side, Larson plans to pursue research into low-power microelectronics for brain interface applications and in health. He’s excited to work with peers such as John Donoghue in neuroscience and Arto Nurmikko in engineering, who are involved in a cutting-edge project to repair damaged signals in the human brain.

The move to the East Coast has other benefits as well. Larson’s daughter attends the Rhode Island School of Design, while his son is enrolled at Oberlin College, in Ohio. An exercise enthusiast, he and his wife are looking forward to exploring the bike and walking trails in Rhode Island.

By Richard Lewis

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