Laurence van Cott Niven was born on April 30, 1938, in Los Angeles, California, and spent his childhood in Beverly Hills, "excluding two years (ages six to eight) in Washington, D.C., serving his country."
In 1956 he entered the California Institute of Technology, only to flunk out a year-and-a-half later after discovering a bookstore jammed with used science-fiction magazines. Larry finally graduated with a B. A. in mathematics (and a minor in psychology) from Washburn University, Kansas, in 1962, and completed one year of graduate work in mathematics at UCLA before dropping out to write. He made his first sale, "The Coldest Place," in 1964 for $25.
Niven's love of science drove him to write stories on the cutting edge of scientific discovery throughout his career. Neutron stars were a newly-described phenomenon when Niven first wrote about them in 1966, and the modern-day theories of "dark matter" inspired him to write "The Missing Mass" in 2000. ("Neutron Star" netted him his first of five Hugo awards, and "The Missing Mass" earned an award from Locus, continuing his streak into the 21st century.) In between, he wrote stories about quantum black holes (following a talk with Steven Hawking), solar flares, and the "real" reason Saturn's rings appeared twisted in Voyager I's imagery.
Larry's first published story, "The Coldest Place," appeared in the December 1964 issue of Worlds of If. It was set on the dark side of Mercury, then considered the coldest place in the solar system; unfortunately, scientists discovered that Mercury does indeed revolve with respect to the sun just about the same time that "The Coldest Place" saw print. Undeterred, Niven continued writing about the wonders of the universe for the next four decades, and shows no signs of stopping.
Some of his contemporaries, like David Brin, have jokingly accused Larry of mining out the territory so completely that there's nothing left for other writers to explore! There can be no doubt that hard-sf writers dominant in the 1980s, like Greg Bear, and some of those reaching for eminence at the turn of the century, like Paul J. McAuley, Roger MacBride Allen and Stephen Baxter (one of Larry's own favorites), owe much to the scope of Larry's inventiveness and that genre-defining sense of wonder that's firmly anchored in the real-world setting of science and technology.