Robert W. Conn

Robert W. Conn (born December 1, 1942) is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Kavli Foundation, a U.S. based foundation dedicated to the advancement of basic science research and public interest in science. A physicist and engineer, Conn is also the current Board Chair of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, an organization that aims to increase private support for basic science research, and Dean Emeritus of the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego). In the 1970s and 1980s, Conn participated in some of the earliest studies of fusion energy as a potential source of electricity, and he served on numerous federal panels, committees, and boards advising the government on the subject. In the early 1970s, he co-founded the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), and in the mid-1980s he led the formation of the Institute of Plasma and Fusion Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). As a university administrator in the 1990s and early 2000s, Conn served as Dean of the School of Engineering at UC San Diego as it established several engineering institutes and programs, including the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, known as Calit2, the Center for Wireless Communications, and the Whitaker Center for Biomedical Engineering. While at UC San Diego he also led the effort to establish an endowment for the School of Engineering, which began with major gifts from Irwin and Joan Jacobs. Irwin M. Jacobs is the co-founder and founding CEO of Qualcomm. While Conn was dean, the engineering school was renamed in 1998 the Irwin and Joan Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. Conn's experience in the private sector includes co-founding in 1986 Plasma & Materials Technologies, Inc. (PMT), and serving as Managing Director of Enterprise Partners Venture Capital (EPVC) from 2002 to 2008. Over the years he has served on numerous private and public company corporate boards. Conn joined The Kavli Foundation in 2009. He helped establish the Science Philanthropy Alliance in 2012.[4]

Robert W. Conn
Born
Robert William Conn

(1942-12-01)December 1, 1942
NationalityAmerican
AwardsDistinguished Alumni Award (California Institute of Technology), 1998[1]

Distinguished Associate Award U.S. Department of Energy, 1992[2]
Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award U.S. Department of Energy, 1984[3]
Curtis W. McGraw Research Award American Society for Engineering Education, 1982

Outstanding Achievement Award, Fusion Energy Development American Nuclear Society, 1979
Scientific career
FieldsScience Philanthropy, Higher Education Administration, Plasma Physics and Fusion Engineering, Nuclear and Fusion Energy Development, Semiconductor device fabrication
InstitutionsThe Kavli Foundation; Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Wisconsin-Madison; California Institute of Technology; Pratt Institute

EducationEdit

Robert W. Conn was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1960 and attended Pratt Institute, also in Brooklyn, graduating with a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering with minors in Physics and Mathematics (1964). He did his graduate work at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, where he received an M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering (1965) and a Ph.D. degree in Engineering Science (1968).[5]

CareerEdit

University of Wisconsin-MadisonEdit

In 1970, Conn began his professional career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), where he joined the nuclear engineering department as a visiting associate professor. He became associate professor in 1972 and full professor in 1975. It was at UW that Conn participated in some of the nation’s earliest feasibility studies of nuclear fusion energy. Between 1972 and 1980, he published nearly 100 articles and reports on plasma physics and fusion technology. Along with four colleagues, Conn founded UW's Fusion Technology Institute in 1972. He also became the university’s Romnes Faculty Endowed Chair Professor in 1978.[6]

Conn’s early work came at a time when the federal government was eager to develop alternative sources of energy in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. He became one the first researchers to study the potential of nuclear fusion reactors, in which the fusion of hydrogen nuclei releases tremendous amounts of energy in the form of neutrons and energetic particles such as helium ions, the heat from which is then used to generate electricity. Nuclear fusion is the process that fuels stars, but triggering and sustaining nuclear fusion in a controlled manner on Earth so it can generate energy at a power plant is not yet a practical reality.[7]

Over his career Conn has conducted studies on designs for several different approaches to creating and confining high temperature fusion plasmas for energy production, among them magnetic confinement reactors, inertial confinement (sometimes called “laser fusion”) reactors, and nuclear fusion-fission hybrid reactors.

Magnetic confinement reactor studiesEdit

In magnetic confinement reactors, hydrogen gas (usually a 50-50 mixture of two heavier isotopes of ordinary hydrogen, namely deuterium and tritium) is heated to very high temperatures (about 150 million degrees Celsius). At these high temperatures electrons separate from hydrogen nuclei and the gas becomes plasma, which is often referred to as the fourth state of matter, the others being solid, liquid and gas. By controlling, or confining, the flow of plasma in test reactors, engineers can cause hydrogen nuclei to collide and fuse – creating for short amounts of time a nuclear fusion reaction that generates heat. One of the unsolved challenges of controlled nuclear fusion energy is to sustain a reaction that generates more energy than what goes into just maintaining the operation of the reactor plasma itself.[8]

In his early work, Conn studied numerous aspects of plasma for fusion applications, including how it can be confined with magnetic fields, thereby increasing its density and the likelihood that atomic nuclei collide and fuse. Conn also studied the boundary conditions between the plasma and the chamber walls inside a reactor, how to design the so-called “blanket region” surrounding the plasma chamber so as to capture the fusion energy released as neutrons, and many other science and engineering challenges associated with practical reactor development.[9] Among the many reports for which Conn played a central role was the UWMAK-1 Study in 1973,[10] which became a tutorial on reactor design used by private sector companies including Westinghouse and McDonald Douglas. His key partner in these studies was Professor Gerald Kulcinski, Grainger Professor of Engineering at UW.[11]

Inertial confinement reactor studiesEdit

In inertial confinement reactors, lasers are fired at a pellet of fuel (often made from a combination of deuterium and tritium) with the goal of compressing, heating, and igniting the fusion fuel and creating a propagating burn through the compressed fuel plasma so as to burn approximately 30 percent before the compressed fuel, now in a very high temperature plasma state, itself disassembles.[12]

While at UW, Conn collaborated with his colleagues on a research program called SOLASE that studied the physics and engineering challenges of inertial confinement reactors. The work identified the key physics, engineering, and technology issues that need to be solved if inertial fusion is to become a practical energy source. Among the many ideas advanced at that time was the use of a low-pressure gas in the chamber to absorb the primary radiation burst that accompanies each micro-explosion (not the neutrons generated) and cause that very short burst of radiation energy to be re-radiated to the walls over a much longer time scale. The SOLASE program studied numerous technological challenges, ranging from delivering fuel pellets to the center of the device at a rate of one to five per second, capturing the energy from the fusion events, shielding the laser beams from pellet explosion debris, and capturing the neutrons that carry 80 percent of the energy so as to make a practical power system.[13]

Fusion-fission hybrid reactor studiesEdit

In fusion-fission hybrid reactors, high-energy fast neutrons generated by nuclear fusion can be used to convert fertile materials such as Thorium-232 or Uranium-238 into fissionable fuels for fission reactors such as Uranium-233 or Plutonium-239. The high-energy fusion-generated neutrons can also be used to trigger nuclear fission in traditional nuclear fuels such as Uranium-235. The hybrid reactor concept has a fusion reactor at the core and a surrounding “blanket” of fertile material, either Thorium-232 or Uranium-238. In a hybrid reactor, high-energy neutrons from fusion reactions are used to produce fissionable materials such as Uranium-233 or Plutonium-239 which would need then to be reprocessed and used as fuel in a fission nuclear power plant. One fusion hybrid plant can provide enough fuel for as many as five nuclear power plants of the same power.

Conn’s work on inertial fusion hybrid reactors was conducted under the SOLASE-H program at the University of Wisconsin, and was supported by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).[14]

University of California, Los AngelesEdit

In 1980, Conn left Wisconsin to join the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he continued research in plasma physics and nuclear fusion, as well as in materials science and energy policy. While at UCLA Conn led the establishment in 1986 of the Institute of Plasma and Fusion Research, and served as its founding director. It was during this time that Conn began more extensively to advise the federal government on fusion energy, specifically for the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and the Department of Energy’s Magnetic Fusion Advisory Committee, among other governmental bodies. At UCLA Conn and his colleague, Farrokh Najmabadi, directed a national U.S. Department of Energy program known as ARIES, which prepared conceptual designs of possible fusion energy power plants. Conn also played a key role in the creation of PISCES, a laboratory research facility located first at UCLA and today at UC San Diego. The lab studies what happens when very high temperature plasma comes into contact with the material world, such as plasma chamber walls, as would occur inside a magnetic fusion reactor. Conn further led the formation of a multi-lateral experiment program, the Advanced Limiter Test or ALT program, that studied plasma as it interacts with components inside a tokamak fusion experiment, in this case the former TEXTOR tokamak machine at Germany’s largest national laboratory, the Forschungszentrum Jülich. The countries participating included Germany, Japan, Belgium, and the United States. In 1991, Conn became chair of the newly formed Fusion Energy Advisory Committee (FEAC) at the U.S. Department of Energy.[15]

University of California, San DiegoEdit

In 1993, Conn moved to the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) to become Dean of its School of Engineering, which in 1998 became the Irwin and Joan Jacobs School of Engineering. He was also UC San Diego’s Walter J. Zable Professor of Engineering Science. Conn led the Jacobs School through a period of rapid growth, during which numerous research centers were formed. These included the Center for Wireless Communications, the Whitaker Center for Biomedical Engineering, and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).[16] Today, the Jacobs School ranks 10th in the nation and 23rd in the world according to the 2016 Academic Ranking of World Universities in Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences conducted by ShanghaiRanking Consultancy.[17] At UC San Diego Conn also built partnerships between the university and private industry, establishing the von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Transfer.[18] During his time at UC San Diego, Conn continued to advise the federal government on fusion energy development. In the mid-1990s he served on a committee that reviewed fusion energy for the United States President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, also known as PCAST.[19]

During his career in academia, Conn published more than 300 journal articles, conference papers, book chapters and op-eds related to fusion energy science and engineering.[20][21] Among them was a 216-page book chapter on magnetic fusion reactors in the 1981 book “Fusion,” which was edited by the physicist Edward Teller.[22]

Private sectorEdit

From 1986 to 1994, roughly paralleling his time at UCLA, Conn co-founded a company called Plasma & Materials Technologies, Inc. (PMT), which developed a system known as MORI that was used for plasma etching and chemical vapor deposition (CVD), steps that are central to the fabrication of semiconductors. The company had an initial public offering, or IPO, on NASDAQ in 1995, and was later acquired. Over the years, Conn has served on the boards of several public companies involved in the semiconductor industry. From 2002 to 2008, after leaving the Jacobs School at UC San Diego, Conn became Managing Director of Enterprise Partners Venture Capital (EPVC), a venture capital firm that invested in both high technology and biotechnology companies.[23]

The Kavli FoundationEdit

In 2009 Conn became the second President of The Kavli Foundation, succeeding Dr. David H. Auston, who served as the Foundation’s president from 2002 to 2008.[24] Fred Kavli, the founder of The Kavli Foundation, served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. On Fred Kavli’s passing in 2013,[25] Conn also assumed the title of Chief Executive Officer.

As head of The Kavli Foundation, which is based in Los Angeles, California, Conn leads its efforts to support research in astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics at academic institutions around the world.[26]

Through a joint venture in 2005, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and The Kavli Foundation established the Kavli Prize to honor, support, and recognize scientists for outstanding work in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. The Kavli Prizes were first awarded in Oslo, Norway on September 9, 2008, and they have been awarded biennially every even year since then. Each of the three Kavli Prizes consists of a gold medal, a scroll, and a cash award of $1,000,000. All winners receive a medal and scroll, but they split the cash award if there is more than one winner in their category.

The Foundation also works to promote increased public understanding of scientists and their work, has programs to help scientists become better communicators, and has programs with museums and other public institutions to help reach the general public about science.[27] The Foundation supports a meeting program that has led to a number of new science initiatives. Among them is The BRAIN Initiative, a broad collaborative research initiative launched in 2013 to accelerate the development of technologies that will enable scientists to visualize, in real time, how the brain functions at the level of individual cells and cell networks.[28] From 2009 to early 2017, The Kavli Foundation expanded the number of science institutes in its name from 15 to 20.[29]

Science Philanthropy AllianceEdit

Conn is also Board Chair of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, which seeks to increase philanthropic giving to basic science and advises new, emerging, and current philanthropists as they pursue their interests in supporting science research. The Alliance was founded in 2012, with The Kavli Foundation as one of its founding partners.[30][31] In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the Alliance's role in advising the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which that year announced a $3 billion commitment to basic science research, making it the second key area of focus of their philanthropy, after education.[32]

Awards and honorsEdit

Conn was elected in 1982 a fellow of both the American Physical Society[33] and the American Nuclear Society.[34] In 1987, Conn was elected to the National Academy of Engineering[35] for his contributions to plasma physics and fusion energy.

Awards received include the 2018 Revelle Medal[36] from the University of California, San Diego, the 1998 Distinguished Alumni Award from the California Institute of Technology, the 1992 Distinguished Associate Award from the U.S. Department of Energy, the 1984 Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award from the U.S. Department of Energy (awarded by the Department on behalf of the U.S. President), the 1982 Curtis W. McGraw Research Award of the American Society for Engineering Education, and the 1979 Outstanding Achievement Award for fusion energy research from the American Nuclear Society. In 1984, when Conn received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, the U.S. Department of Energy cited Conn's "pioneering contributions to fusion reactor engineering and for his articulate representation of the engineering needs of fusion."[37]

OutreachEdit

As President and CEO of The Kavli Foundation, Conn has worked to advance science research around the world, increase awareness about the importance of science research, and recognize the achievements of scientists as well as those of journalists who cover the scientific enterprise. Conn has also served on several committees for the U.S. government; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the University of California; and national laboratories.

While an advocate for private support of science research, Conn has also argued that continued public funding is critical, and he has noted that government funding of basic science is about fifteen times that of philanthropy. “Philanthropy is no substitute for government funding. You can’t say that loud enough,” he told The New York Times in a Mar. 15, 2014 article on concerns over increasing private support for science projects.[38]

AffiliationsEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ List of Distinguished Alumni, The Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award
  2. ^ "Robert W. Conn Profile", The Kavli Foundation
  3. ^ List of Award Laureates by Year, The Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science
  4. ^ Robert W. Conn Biography Accompanying the Article, "The Role of Foundations and Societies in Supporting Frontier Research at Disciplinary Boundaries," by Robert W. Conn, American Institute of Physics
  5. ^ "Executive Profile of Robert W. Conn Ph.D." Company Overview of The Kavli Foundation, Bloomberg
  6. ^ Gerald Kulcinski, Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Director, Fusion Technology Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, "Early Days In Bob Conn's Career at Wisconsin", Robert W. Conn 70th Birthday Symposium at the University of California, San Diego, May 9, 2013
  7. ^ "What is Fusion?", ITER Website
  8. ^ "What is Fusion?", ITER Website
  9. ^ Robert W. Conn Biography Accompanying the Article, "The Role of Foundations and Societies in Supporting Frontier Research at Disciplinary Boundaries," by Robert W. Conn, American Institute of Physics
  10. ^ "UWMAK-I - A Wisconsin Toroidal Fusion Reactor Design", Fusion Technology Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nov. 20, 1973
  11. ^ Gerald Kulcinski, Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Director, Fusion Technology Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, "Early Days In Bob Conn's Career at Wisconsin", Robert W. Conn 70th Birthday Symposium at the University of California, San Diego, May 9, 2013
  12. ^ "Inertial Confinement Fusion: How to Make a Star", National Ignition Facility and Photon Science, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  13. ^ Gerald Kulcinski, Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Director, Fusion Technology Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, "Early Days In Bob Conn's Career at Wisconsin", Robert W. Conn 70th Birthday Symposium at the University of California, San Diego, May 9, 2013
  14. ^ "SOLASE-H FTI Publications", Fusion Technology Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  15. ^ Stephen O. Dean, President of Fusion Power Associates and Editor of Journal of Fusion Energy, and Mohamed Abdou, Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Applied Science and Director of the Fusion Science & Technology Center at UCLA, "Presentations on Robert W. Conn", Robert W. Conn 70th Birthday Symposium at the University of California, San Diego, May 9, 2013
  16. ^ Robert W. Conn Profile, The Kavli Foundation
  17. ^ 2016 Academic Ranking of World Universities, ShanghaiRanking Consultancy
  18. ^ Robert W. Conn Profile, The Kavli Foundation
  19. ^ Report of the Fusion Energy Panel, The U.S. Program of Fusion Energy Research and Development, The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), July 1995
  20. ^ Executive Profile of Robert W. Conn Ph.D., Company Overview of The Kavli Foundation, Bloomberg
  21. ^ Publications - Robert W. Conn, The Kavli Foundation
  22. ^ Robert W. Conn, "Magnetic Fusion Reactors" Chapter (pp. 194-410), FUSION, Edited by Edward Teller, Volume 1 Magnetic Confinement, Part B (Published 1981)
  23. ^ "Executive Profile of Robert W. Conn Ph.D." Company Overview of The Kavli Foundation, Bloomberg
  24. ^ "Dr. Robert W. Conn named President of the Kavli Foundation", Physics Today, Mar. 10, 2009
  25. ^ William Yardley, "Fred Kavli, Benefactor of Science Prizes, Dies at 86", The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2013
  26. ^ "About the Foundation", The Kavli Foundation
  27. ^ "About the Foundation", The Kavli Foundation
  28. ^ The Brain Initiative, National Institutes of Health
  29. ^ "Institutes", The Kavli Foundation
  30. ^ "Who We Are" Science Philanthropy Alliance
  31. ^ Sarah Zielinski, "New Coalition Aims to Increase Philanthropic Funding of Basic Science", American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), May 10, 2013
  32. ^ "Celebrating the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's Commitment to Basic Science Research", Sept. 21, 2016, Science Philanthropy Alliance
  33. ^ APS Fellow Archive, American Physical Society
  34. ^ Current Fellows, American Nuclear Society
  35. ^ NAE Members, National Academy of Engineering
  36. ^ "2018 Revelle Medal Recipients Announced". University of California, San Diego. October 11, 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  37. ^ Robert W. Conn, 1984, The Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, U.S. Department of Energy
  38. ^ William J. Broad, "Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science", The New York Times, Mar. 15, 2014

External linksEdit