UCSB welcomed a donation for its record books this week: $65 million from Berkshire Hathaway billionaire Charles Munger. Although early media reports suggested that Munger had gifted the university — which his grandson attended — with $20.7 million, his actual contribution was more than triple that and marks the single largest donation to the university, topping the $50 million donated by Oracle tycoon and alum Jeff Henley in 2012.
The $65 million will pay for a new visitor housing facility for the university’s renowned Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP). Munger — who, according to Forbes, has a net worth of $1.3 billion — got hooked on physics as a college student in 1941 before he joined the army, where he worked as a meteorologist. Through a statement released by UCSB, Munger said there was “no place” like Kavli in the world, “so it’s a great thing to be able to give them a nice home of their own.”
Continuing, Munger said, “Now we can get people together from all over the world and these people can cross-fertilize each other. Physics is getting so hard now, they need all the help they can get. This is a hugely important thing. This isn’t a field where we want to be behind.”
Speaking to the future building itself — which he helped design over the course of a year — Munger, said it “will be about as good as it can get and offer as good an experience as a physicist can have — and I don’t think you could have a better place on earth to do it.”
Since 1979, the center has drawn prominent scientists from around the world, and the building will provide them a place to stay and interact more closely, said Chancellor Henry Yang. “We are absolutely thrilled and honored that through Charlie’s vision, unbelievable generosity, his love of physics, and his unique architectural and engineering genius and passion, we have been gifted such an unimaginable guesthouse for the visitors of KITP to enjoy and enable them to continue their groundbreaking research at the endless frontier of physics,” Yang said in a statement.
Kavli center director and theoretical astrophysicist Lars Bildsten likewise heaped gratitude on Munger, saying that the increased interactions among the scientists that the residence will foster will pave the way for “an increased number of collaborations and scientific progress.” Construction, according to UCSB officials, will start this month and be handled by The Towbes Group, with a completion date two years out.
The Kavli Institute — named after famed physicist Fred Kavli, who died of cancer last November at his home in Santa Barbara — is also funded by the National Science Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Kavli Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Simons Foundation.