Philanthropist Ponies Up for Basic Science

For a former industrialist, Fred Kavli is remarkably unconcerned with immediate results. On 10 March, the Santa Barbara-based philanthropist announced the creation of seven new research institutions in the United States and the Netherlands--a nearly $100 million investment--all of which will fund basic research rather than creating industrially useful ideas.

Kavli's stated goal is to advance basic research, and he has chosen to concentrate on cosmology, nanoscience, and brain biology. The new institutes reflect that focus. Three are neuroscience or cognition institutes at the University of California (UC), San Diego, Yale University, and Columbia University. Three are nanoscience institutes at Cornell University, the California Institute of Technology, and Delft University in the Netherlands. The last is a cosmology center at the University of Chicago. The new centers will join two centers previously established by Kavli in 2001 and 2003: UC Santa Barbara's theoretical physics institute and Stanford's particle astrophysics center.

The focus on such theoretical topics is unusual for a donation of this size. But the origin and the evolution of the universe are of particular interest to Kavli, a Norwegian physicist who made his millions by designing and building sensors for aerospace and other industries. He also has a different sense of what makes a good investment than most industrialists, says David Auston, president of the Kavli Foundation in Oxnard, California. "He's thinking about the longest time span, not necessarily about immediate return."

This may not be the last windfall that the scientific community will receive from Kavli. The foundation might wind up financing several more institutes, says Auston.

Related site
The Kavli Foundation