Press Release

Kavli Foundation Establishes $1 Million Science Prizes

By SpaceRef Editor
May 12, 2005
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Just as every house needs a foundation, every advance in science–the curing of a disease, the next supercomputer, or the ability to land a roving robot on a distant planet–would not be possible without the underpinning of understanding that comes from basic, or fundamental, research; that is, research that expands knowledge without a specific, practical application in mind, driven solely by curiosity about how the natural world works from atoms to the brain to the cosmos.

In 2000, California business leader and noted philanthropist Fred Kavli established the Kavli Foundation, based in Santa Barbara, California, with two goals in mind: to advance basic science for the benefit of humanity, and to promote an increased public understanding of, and support for, scientists and their work. In the last five years the Foundation has established ten Kavli research institutes at major universities nationwide (and one in the Netherlands), and six endowed professorships. Now the Foundation is announcing the establishment of the Kavli Prizes, three, $1 million awards that will recognize scientists for their seminal advances in the research areas on which the Foundation focuses: astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

The Prizes will be awarded every two years beginning in 2008, and will consist of a scroll, a medal, and the cash award. They will be presented in cooperation with the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Kavli¹s native country, with the President of the Norwegian Academy presiding. The King of Norway will be invited to make the presentation of the awards. A distinguished panel of international scientists will determine recipients.

“It is a great honor that Fred Kavli has entrusted Norway to award the Kavli Prizes,” says Kristin Clemet, the Norwegian Minister of Education and Research. “This will also offer strong incentives for the Norwegian research community to seek further international co-operation with outstanding research environments within astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.”

“The establishment of the Kavli Prizes is an event of historical significance for the Norwegian scientific community and a major contribution to the development of the three fields of science involved,” adds Professor Jan Fridthjof Bernt, president of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

He emphasizes that the Kavli Prizes will raise the awareness of political decision makers and the general public of the importance and enormous potential of research carried out in these fields. At the same time the Prizes will serve as a focal point for global networking in these disciplines.

“The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters shares Fred Kavli¹s vision of how the awarding of Prizes can be used to serve these purposes,” says Jan Fridthjof Bernt.

“The Prizes are intended, of course, to reward scientists who often make significant contributions to society yet spend their entire careers in obscurity,” says Kavli, the Foundation chairman. “But it is also our attempt to develop in people, as well as in our politicians, a richer appreciation of the benefits of basic science in their own lives.”

Scientists are not good at self-promotion, he notes. “In our society today we celebrate movie stars and athletes, but some of our greatest unsung heroes are the men and women in science who are doing something that really matters.”

This is a time when government support for basic research in the United States is waning, Kavli says, and when the general public looks to science only for practical things–the next new drug, or a more fuel-efficient car. And business and governments often have a difficult time supporting basic research because it is hard to predict what the benefits will be, and when they will occur.

“Yet practically everything we touch in our daily lives has been improved or developed through basic research,” says Kavli. “Indeed, the progress of our entire standard of living is tied closely to the fruits of science and research.

“So I¹m hopeful the Kavli Prizes will help to bring science and scientists a little bit of recognition and attention. After all, look at what a great job the Nobel Prizes have done in educating people.”

Kavli is a Norwegian-born physicist with a lifelong interest in science, and a commitment to making a positive, long-term impact on the human condition. Kavli received his education in physics at the Norwegian Institute of Technology, and after coming to the United States in 1956, founded the Kavlico Corporation two years later. The company became one of the world¹s largest suppliers of pressure, position, and force sensors for commercial and military airplanes, space vehicles, and later for automotive sensors to the Ford Motor Company. He sold the company in 2000, and now divides his time managing his commercial real estate company and the Foundation.

Kavli still recalls what sparked his interest in science. As a child growing up in Norway, he often went skiing under a sky flaming with the aurora borealis. Watching the shifting and dancing mystery of the northern lights made him ponder the universe, the planets and stars, and man¹s role in it.

“I’m still pondering,” he says, “which is why I support basic science. I¹m still curious about our world, and our place within it.” That curiosity reflects the Foundation’s three areas of emphasis on astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience, or, as Kavli likes to say, “from the largest, to the smallest, to the most complex.

“I always felt strongly that I wanted to do something of value for mankind,” he says. “To start a business and be successful was good. But that was never my ultimate goal.”

For more information about the Kavli Foundation, please see

SpaceRef staff editor.