By Gary Robbins

Originally published June 12, 2012 at 12:01 a.m., updated June 11, 2012 at 8:49 p.m.

LA JOLLA — Imagination, one of the least understood but most cherished products of the brain, will become the focus of a new center founded by UC San Diego and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.

The two institutions have created the Center for Human Imagination, which will be based at the university and involve thinkers from a diverse range of fields including technology, sociology, politics, medicine and literature.

“We are changing the world so fast right now, and the level of transformation is profound. This is the outcome of imagination,” said Sheldon Brown, the center’s director and a media arts professor at UC San Diego. “We need a more thoughtful, deliberative approach to understanding how it works.”

The perils and positives of imagination were a defining theme for Clarke, the British futurist and author of acclaimed books such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Rendezvous With Rama.” He died in 2008.

“A number of excellent universities responded to our request for proposals to become the home of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, but the University of California San Diego made the most compelling case,” Tedson Meyers, chairman of the Clarke foundation, said in a statement. “Its top-flight research resources, facilities and academic excellence in multidisciplinary collaborations within the UC system and beyond are ideally suited to approach the potential of human imagination from a wide range of perspectives.”

The center’s leaders are just starting to sketch out ideas for research projects and public lectures. But Brown said they have already decided to involve well-known science-fiction writers such as David Brin and Kim Stanley Robinson, both of whom earned degrees at UC San Diego, and Gregory Benford, a sci-fi writer and physicist at UC Irvine.