New Benefactor Takes Aim at Basic Scientific Questions

Norwegian-born industrialist Fred Kavli is dedicating his wealth to fundamental research in fields that have fascinated him since childhood

Santa Barbara, California—As a child in Norway, Fred Kavli skied under the clear shimmer of the Northern Lights, wondering about the universe beyond and our place within it. Today, Kavli still wonders, and in the past few years he has spent tens of millions of dollars to bring answers within reach.

Kavli eased into academic philanthropy after 2000, when he sold the precision-sensor company he founded and ran for more than 40 years. Two physics institutes, at the University of California here (UCSB) and at Stanford University, took his name after receiving $7.5 million grants from his Kavli Founda-

On a clear day. Fred Kavli's property overlooks the Santa Barbara Channel.

tion. Last year, the foundation crossed state and disciplinary borders with a flourish: It endowed eight more institutes at major universities, featuring top-rank scientists in Kavli's chosen fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

With gifts surpassing $100 million and more to come, Kavli is making an impact at a time of unsteady federal funding. And he is doing it out of curiosity. "He is interested in deeply fundamental questions," says neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Eric Kandel of Columbia University in New York City, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science. "He is absolutely distinctive because of this. It's just a spectacular impetus for universities."

It's a whirlwind retirement for a lifelong industrialist, but Kavli is having a grand time. "I always felt strongly that I wanted to do something ofvalue for mankind," he says. "To start a business and be successful, it's good. But that was not my goal at all."

Paneling and presidents

During a walk through his oceanfront home a few kilometers from UCSB—a stunning house, much of which he designed—Kavli apologizes for a towel on his bedroom floor. "I was stretching there this morning," he explains. Tall and lean, with thin tufts of white hair and an angular face, Kavli resembles the late Francis Crick without the unruly eyebrows. A treadmill, tennis court, and 50-meter stairway to the beach keep him spry and sharp at age 77, as does his favored diet of fruit, fish, sushi and sashimi, and soymilk.

As Kavli climbs a stairway, he passes an array of framed photos without pausing. The faces are familiar: Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, George and Barbara Bush, Dan and Marilyn Quayle. Kavli appears in every image, dashing in a tuxedo. Those were boom times for the military-industrial complex, and he was every bit the politically attuned CEO. "I've met all the presidents, but not [Jimmy] Carter," he observes.

Upstairs, in a simply outfitted study, Kavli slows his pace. High-powered binoculars are fixed upon the orange-hued Kohn Hall at UCSB, home of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP). He lingers over pictures of his children Ingrid and Eric, adopted with his former wife, Helen; an ultrafast SR-71 reconnaissance jet, for which his company was the sole supplier of flight-control sensors; and a joyous photo from the 1940s with his older brother Aslak. The two blond hotshots sprawl in a field near motorcycles, amid a rapt cluster of three Norwegian girls.

Aslak and Fred, 7 years younger, were inseparable on their family farm near the town of Molde, about 180 kilometers southwest of Trondheim and 5 kilometers inland from the Norwegian Sea. The boys ran a profitable business cutting trees to make planks for furniture factories, as well as wood briquettes that fueled cars and buses during World War II gasoline shortages.

Fred was just as precocious at school, one of which was seven bus and ferry rides from home. He dove headlong into extracurricular life and served as student body president. "Leadership came naturally to me," he says. "More than anything, those activities gave me the confidence to go to America, completely alone, and start my business."

He earned a degree in engineering physics from the Norwegian Institute of Technology (now the Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in Trondheim. Two days later, he boarded the S.S. Stavangerfjord in Oslo to steam for Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was 1955, he had $300, and no sure prospects awaited him.

Kavli's quiet voice catches and his eyes well up as he mentions leaving a dear school friend at the port in Oslo, never to see her again. Later, he remembers how much he loved the farm's horses—how gently they responded to kindness, how they looked at z him when they grew angry. Conversations 5 with Kavli combine these Old World manners a

| and emotions with dispassionate business

| acumen, and the fusion draws people in. "He's

| a shrewd but simple man," says one UCSB

§ physicist. "His heart is in the right place."

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