Advancing Basic Science for Humanity
Robert W. Conn
Robert W. Conn is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Kavli Foundation and Zable Professor and Dean, Emeritus, of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. Dr. Conn is widely recognized for his academic achievements and leadership in education and research and for his experience in the private sector. He began his academic career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970 where he became Professor of Engineering Physics, served as founding director of the University’s Fusion Technology Institute and held the Romnes Faculty Chair. Dr. Conn moved to UCLA as Professor of Engineering and Applied Science in 1980 and in 1986 he led the formation of UCLA’s Institute of Plasma and Fusion Research and became its first director.
From 1993 to 2002, Dr. Conn was Dean of the Irwin and Joan Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego and the Walter J. Zable Professor of Engineering Science. While Dean, he led the School through a period of unprecedented growth in faculty, students and reputation resulting in the School’s current ranking among the top twelve engineering schools in the country. He led major changes in the School’s organizational structure to position it for the future. This included the formation of two new academic departments, one in Bioengineering and another in Structural Engineering. He worked closely with student groups to help ensure that all students gained the best possible experience while at UC San Diego. Research centers established as part of Dr. Conn’s tenure include the Center for Wireless Communications, the Whitaker Institute for Biomedical Engineering (in partnership with the School of Medicine), and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CalIT2). He was asked to lead the formation and successful proposal as a partnership across the UC San Diego campus and with UC Irvine. He led the joint campus effort, hired the founding CalIT2 director, helped to raise $140 million to match $100 million for the State, and built upon earlier partnerships with industry. Dr. Conn built partnerships between the university and industry throughout his tenure, and established the von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Transfer.
Dr. Conn has been a leading researcher in plasma physics, fusion energy, energy policy and materials science. He pioneered, beginning in the early 1970’s, the study of fusion systems as potential power reactors, identifying the major physics and engineering challenges facing the development of practical fusion energy. His theoretical and experimental research focused on plasma physics, the plasma boundary layer, surface science and chemical physics. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1987 for his pioneering research contributions to the fields of plasma physics and fusion energy.
Dr. Conn’s experience in the private sector includes co-founding Plasma & Materials Technologies, Inc. in 1986, a company that developed etching and thin film deposition equipment used to manufacture semiconductors. PMT had its initial public offering on NASDAQ in 1995. He serves on the Board of Directors of Intersil Corporation (NASDAQ:ISIL) and was from 2002 to 2008 a Managing Director at Enterprise Partners Venture Capital (EPVC). EPVC is a La Jolla-based VC firm specializing in early-stage high tech and life science companies. He led investments in early-stage high technology companies, serving on the boards of those private companies.
Dr. Conn is a Chairman of the Board and a founding board member of the Science Philanthropy Alliance. A member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Nuclear Society, awards for his research contributions include the Ernest O. Lawrence Memorial Award, the McGraw Research Award, the Distinguished Associate Award of the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Distinguished Alumni Award of the California Institute of Technology. He has served on committees for the U.S. Government, the University of California, the National Research Council, the National Academies, and several national laboratories. Dr. Conn received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Pratt Institute. He received his M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering Science from the California Institute of Technology.