Larry Smarr stops a visitor and says, Before you go, let me show you my stool sample.
The UC San Diego physicist-futurist reaches into his kitchen refrigerator, past the milk, and pulls out a small white box. He marvels over its contents.
The bacteria in here contains more info than you'd find on a computer chip, Smarr says. It's a window into your health. Within 10 years, people won't dream of going to a doctor without first getting a sample like this.
Feeling squeamish? Smarr can have that effect on people. Virtually nothing is out-of-bounds these days when he promotes the Quantified Self, an emerging movement in which people use biosensors and other gadgets to closely monitor their bodies in the name of wellness.
At 63, Smarr thinks he's found the future of personal health care. Time will tell. But colleagues note that he's one of the most original thinkers in the country, with an almost eerie gift for sensing and shaping where society and technology are going.
Think Steve Jobs without the abrasive personality.
Smarr sparked a revolution in supercomputing, aiding the rise of the Internet. He was among the first to recognize that the cost of sequencing a person's genome would plummet, leading him to push genomic medicine.
And Smarr founded Calit2, a UC San Diego technology test bed that's run like a hungry start-up rather than a fiefdom. Lab space only goes to those who collaborate, and only for limited periods of time. Big ideas trump big egos.
Calit2 has ended up developing things like tiny camera-toting helicopters that hover above archaeological sites, and a possible way to use text messaging to encourage people to lose weight.
Larry's a visionary, says Robert Dynes, chancellor emeritus of UC San Diego. So if he says something that sounds a little crazy, remember that he's delivered in the past. Hear him out.
Smarr says, I look at a trend and try to project my brain to, say, 2020 and see how things will be different. Then I think, What could we be doing in 2012 to make that future happen, and happen faster?
Everyone sees the world, but the great thinkers conceptualize.
At the moment, Smarr's focus is on quantifying his health, which on balance is good. He's not obsessed with the specter of death. He's obsessed with measuring things that can be turned into useful scientific data.
That's what the last 500 years of Western civilization were all about, Smarr says. That's what I'm about.
He had parts of his DNA sequenced, revealing a pre-disposition to inflammation. He sends stool samples out for analysis to see if certain microbes will cause trouble in his intestines. He wears a monitor that assesses every moment of his sleep. The temperature in his bedroom is digitally projected on to the ceiling. If it's not optimal, he opens or closes doors and windows.
As for his colon, well, you can check out the photos on the web.
Larry Smarr stands in a production studio at Calit2, the technology test bed he founded at UC San Diego. He also oversees the UC Irvine division of Calit2. Howard Lipin
All of the data along with his heart rate, blood pressure, and exercise are logged in an Excel spreadsheet, which he also uses to record 100 blood variables, from triglycerides to five types of white blood cells.
He equates his behavior to sports fans who constantly pore over statistics about their favorite teams. But Smarr also is a â€˜â€˜scientific Libertarian,â€ tartly saying, â€œIf everybody took responsibility for their bodies, three-quarters of our population wouldn't be obese or overweight.
Not everyone can afford to be a â€œself-quanter,â€ the name given to those who constantly monitor their bodies. Smarr, who lives in the Crystal Bay section of La Jolla, spends at least $5,000 a year on tests and doctors visits that aren't covered by his health plan.
But change appears imminent; the marketplace is beginning to see lots of wearable devices that do such things as measure a person's glucose and send the data to smartphones.
Sources: Gary Robbins, San Diego Union Tribune
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