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'A fully fledged optimist'

Published November 21, 2006


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - He might be the most active philanthropist you've never heard of: a retired technology entrepreneur putting his stamp on science research centers at the world's top universities and sponsoring what he hopes will be 21st century versions of the Nobel Prizes.

With his efficient use of a roughly $600-million fortune - big but hardly Bill Gates-ishly mind-boggling - that philanthropist, Fred Kavli, 79, could end up having an outsized effect on next-generation science.

Many scientists lament that money for basic research is becoming harder to get, as governments, corporations and other big funders seek specific breakthroughs that can be applied relatively quickly. Kavli, however, is adamant about giving money for open-ended research whose ultimate fruits may not be in sight.

"He's quite visionary," said Eric Kandel, Nobel-winning director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University. "We need more people like him."

Just a few years after seriously beginning his mission to stimulate advances in nanotechnology, neuroscience and astronomy, Kavli has launched 14 research centers in academia's most rarified halls, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Caltech and MIT, plus schools in Europe and China. While some are using Kavli's money to probe the nature of "dark matter" in the universe, others are exploring the minuscule brain structures active in human cognition.

Although Kavli requires universities to match much of the $7.5-million he typically puts up for an institute, no school has turned him down. Many find money for basic research so rare they send Kavli's foundation unsolicited appeals.

Kavli expects to eventually create 20 such centers. And beginning in 2008, $1-million Kavli Prizes in nanotech, neuroscience and astrophysics will be awarded every two years by the Academy of Sciences in Norway, where Kavli was born.

Kavli Institutes

The 14 research institutes established by the Kavli Foundation:

- Theoretical Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara

- Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, Stanford University

- Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago

- Astrophysics and Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

- Nanoscience, California Institute of Technology

- Nanoscience, Cornell University

- Nanoscience, Delft University of Technology in Holland

- Neuroscience, Yale University

- Brain Science, Columbia University

- Brain and Mind, University of California at San Diego

- Theoretical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

- Astronomy and Astrophysics, Peking University

- Biological Nanoscience and Technology, Harvard University

- Astronomy, University of Cambridge

[Last modified November 20, 2006, 22:24:04]

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