Robert W. Conn (MS '65, PhD '68), president and CEO, emeritus, of the Kavli Foundation; UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering dean emeritus; Caltech distinguished alumnus; and fusion engineering innovator, will receive the Simon Ramo Founders Award, the oldest and one of the most prestigious awards bestowed by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
The Ramo Founders Award was established in 1965. It is named after Conn's fellow Caltech alumnus Simon Ramo (PhD '36) to honor outstanding NAE members who have upheld the ideals and principles of the NAE through professional, educational, and personal achievement and accomplishment. One award is given per year. It will be presented to Conn during the 2023 National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting "for shaping national science and technology policy through leadership in academia, business, and philanthropy and for seminal contributions to fusion engineering."
A leading researcher in plasma physics, fusion energy, energy policy, and materials science, Conn pioneered the design of fusion power systems. He co-founded and served as the first director of University of Wisconsin–Madison's Fusion Technology Institute and later established and led UCLA's Institute of Plasma and Fusion Research.
Over the course of his career, Conn served on many advisory committees for the National Research Council, the National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Congress and executive branch agencies of the U.S. government, including the Department of Energy.
From 2009 until his retirement in 2020, he was president and CEO of the Kavli Foundation, a nonprofit that advances science for the benefit of humanity and supports a collection of global research institutes that explore areas of fundamental science, including Caltech's Kavli Nanoscience Institute. As president, he enabled the U.S. BRAIN Initiative in 2013 and co-founded the Science Philanthropy Alliance. He is a member of the NAE and a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Nuclear Society. He was named a Caltech Distinguished Alumni (DAA) in 1998.
"My Caltech education at the graduate level became the foundation for everything I did technically, especially since plasma physics and fusion engineering were not my subjects at Caltech, yet fusion engineering is where my technical contributions were most profound," Conn says. "The foundations in advanced mathematics, quantum mechanics, and the engineering sciences were used again and again throughout my career. And it certainly didn't hurt to have wonderful, and very smart, fellow graduate students."
Si Ramo, who passed away in 2016 at age 103, was a founder of the aerospace industry, chief architect of the nation's intercontinental ballistic missile system, and a life member of the Caltech community. Among many other honors, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983, the National Medal of Science in 1979, and the Founders Medal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1980; and he was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and a founding member of the NAE. He was named a Caltech Distinguished Alumnus in 2012.
Other recipients of the Ramo Founders Award include the late George W. Housner (MS '34, PhD '41), Caltech's Braun Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, a pathbreaking earthquake engineer; and Carver Mead(BS '56, MS '57, PhD '60), Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus, one of the founders of modern computing.