Fred Kavli

Fred Kavli

The Kavli Foundation

Fred Kavli's Support for Science to Live On

Fred Kavli, the man behind the Kavli Foundation, died last week at the age of 86. He leaves a legacy of supporting the fundamental sciences that will be further strengthened in the future, thanks to additional funds that Kavli bequeathed to the foundation in his will.

“Fred had always indicated that the foundation would exist in perpetuity,” says Kavli Foundation President Robert Conn. “He endowed it with a generous initial gift. It will be even more generously endowed after his passing.” Conn did not, however, provide details on how much Kavli’s final bequest will add to the foundation’s capital, which totaled $145 million in 2011, according to tax records.

Kavli grew up in a small village in Norway and moved to the United States in 1956. Two years later, he founded Kavlico Corporation, which became one of the world’s largest suppliers of sensors for the aerospace and automobile industries. In 2000, Kavli sold the company and launched the Kavli Foundation to support basic research. 

Since then, the foundation has endowed 17 research institutes at universities around the world to foster work in astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics. And since 2008, the foundation has also financed biennial prizes of $1 million each to recognize top researchers in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. Among other prizes funded by the foundation are the annual science journalism prizes awarded by AAAS, which publishes Science.

“Something that was very special about Fred was his singularity of purpose,” Conn tells ScienceInsider. “When he set up the foundation, it was with a deep belief that fundamental science could ultimately show the way to a better life for everyone.”

Despite his illness over the past year, Conn says, Kavli remained gung-ho about the foundation’s work. “In phone conversations over the last 6 weeks, he told me several times—let’s keep going,” Conn says. “He had absolute conviction in his vision and his belief. It’s motivating.”