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It would be hard to find anyone in information technology with the track record of Larry Smarr. In 1985, he launched the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, a federally sponsored research facility, where he led the development of what would become today’s Internet backbone. Years later he worked with a then unknown student, Marc Andreessen, to develop and commercialize the technology that would jump-start the Internet revolution: the Mosaic Web browser.

Now Smarr, perched in a seventh-floor office overlooking a eucalyptus grove on the University of California, San Diego, campus, directs the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. His is one of four state institutes set up last year to foster collaboration among government, industry and academe and spur advances in information technology, biotech, nanotechnology and the Internet-helping ensure California remains a high-tech powerhouse.

Throughout his illustrious career, Smarr, 52, has been a master facilitator, bringing people and institutions together to work on key technological challenges. At this new institute, he could face the greatest test to date of his consensus-building skills. Drawing upon the academic prowess of UC San Diego and UC Irvine, the center links three levels of government-state, federal and local-200 university faculty members, a slew of cutting-edge companies and the community at large to explore how next-generation Internet technologies will transform transportation, medicine and the environment. Freelance writer Eric Pfeifer braved T-shirt temperatures and calm skies to visit Smarr and hear his plans to spend $400 million in four years to create what he calls a massive “living laboratory.”

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