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Thomas Harriman, UCSB Foundation Trustee

High Risk, High Reward

UC Santa Barbara Foundation Trustee Thomas Harriman supports UCSB’s Brain Initiative

A trustee of the UC Santa Barbara Foundation, Tom is still following his never-quit template for innovation, as a driving and generous supporting force behind UC Santa Barbara’s Brain Initiative. The ambitious endeavor to solve the mysteries of the brain features marquee researchers from all disciplines.

Inspired by and partly modeled after the federal BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, the university’s effort aims to catalyze discovery and innovation in neuroscience by fostering collaborative brain research. The initiative’s major focuses include concussion and traumatic brain injury, the invention of new brain-imaging technologies, and the imaging of neurons — even cells — to determine which are impaired and then finding molecular means to rehabilitate or replace them. In fact in mid-October, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to three scientists using molecules to do just that!

One overarching goal of the initiative is to ultimately pull all its varied work together into a high-powered neural computing center. According to Kenneth S. Kosik, the Harriman Chair in Neuroscience Research at UC Santa Barbara and director of the growing initiative, neuroscience as a field of study requires a campus-wide approach. “It’s not in one department or ORU,” Kosik has said. “It extends from the Division of Mathematical, Life, and Physical Sciences to the College of Engineering to the social sciences and the humanities — because we have to think of the applications of and to neuroscience.”

Harriman couldn’t agree more. He and Kosik were collaborators on an earlier community initiative, since discontinued, a professional outpatient clinic for evaluation and treatment of mild cognitive impairment. It demonstrated qualitative improvement but did not seem worth the time & money to more clients as a reduction in risk factor rather than a cure. With this new endeavor, they’re shooting for the stars, aiming to innovate techniques to fight even the toughest brain problems, such as Alzheimer’s.

“We knew it needed to go back to research to come up with something that looks more like a cure,” Harriman said. “Like investing, high risk demands high reward. And the reward is huge with what we’re trying to do – better outcomes in treatment of cognitive impairment at drastically reduced cost so that our national cognitive health care system can cope with the impending load.”

“I’ve spent most of my life doing things that people said couldn’t be done.”

Spoken with confidence — and like a true pioneer. That’s Tom Harriman for you.

Facing German air superiority, Roosevelt intoned, “I want 50,000 airplanes a year!” So Tom earned a master’s in aeronautical engineering at MIT. In the Bell Aircraft helicopter development group, Tom implemented Larry Bell’s strategy to make commercial helicopters, militarized versions eventually to be sold to the army. Earning the world’s first commercial production type certificate for helicopters, Bell later supplied AirCav with three-quarters of the helicopters for the Vietnam Era.

Down the pike, Tom “retooled” in electronics and was hired as Senior Technical Officer of an electronics conglomerate, helping it grow beyond doorbell circuitry to innovation of high-resolution color monitors — a technology now taken for granted in today’s digital world.  In the second production use of microcircuits, one of the divisions designed military equipment still flying today.  Tom’s programmers also developed the concept of routing trunk lines in software for more efficient telephone network management; the network managers could then execute changes via computer.  This overcame the problem of inevitable error by craftsmen in the switch-room and sped up response to regional overloading in emergencies (such as generated by the Sylmar earthquake).

Small by comparison with today’s giants, the company became listed on the New York Stock Exchange and did manage to grow its market capitalization a hundred-fold in 29 years.

“Game changing — getting people smarter than me to do it,” said Harriman, officially retired but working pretty hard for a super-senior.