March 18, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 12

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    Kavli supports cosmological studies through $7.5 million grant to Chicago

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The University will devote $7.5 million in donations from Fred Kavli and the Kavli Foundation of Oxnard, Calif., to studying some of the most puzzling scientific questions about the origin and evolution of the universe and the laws that govern it.

    The funds will make permanent the Center for Cosmological Physics, which the National Science Foundation established at the University in 2001.

    The center will be renamed the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, and it is one of seven institutes the Kavli Foundation is establishing around the United States and in Europe on brain science, nanoscience and cosmology.

    “My goal in establishing these institutes is to support research at the frontiers of science,” said foundation chairman Fred Kavli. “I feel that it is especially important to pursue the most far-reaching opportunities and challenges and to seek answers to the most fundamental unanswered questions.”

    Kavli said he selected the three areas of emphasis because they provide the greatest opportunity for major scientific breakthroughs. “We selected the University of Chicago primarily because of its research strengths in experimental and theoretical cosmology. The presence of an interactive group of outstanding researchers supported by an NSF Physics Frontier Center also was a factor.”

    President Randel said the University is proud to have the Kavli name associated with its rich tradition of research in physics, astronomy and astrophysics. “This tradition includes our alumnus Edwin Hubble, who discovered 75 years ago that the universe is expanding. With the generous support of Fred Kavli and the Kavli Foundation, our scientists aim to make equally startling discoveries in the years ahead,” Randel said.

    More than 90 scientists and students at the new Kavli Institute carry out research that fuses cosmology with particle physics. Of particular interest to the institute’s researchers are the following questions: Why is the universe expanding at an accelerating rate? Did the universe begin in a burst of expansion called inflation? And, did a single unified force influence the beginning of the universe?

    The interdisciplinary work pioneered by David Schramm at the University from 1974 until his death in 1997, has established that there are deep and profound connections between the very small—quarks—and the very large—the cosmos, said Michael Turner, the Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Over the past two decades, Chicago scientists have blazed the trails in this new approach to cosmology and particle physics.

    “The Kavli Foundation recognized the grand opportunities to dramatically advance our understanding of both the universe and the laws that govern it, and with this gift has expressed its confidence in the ability of scientists at Chicago to take advantage of those opportunities within our unique interdisciplinary culture,” Turner noted.

    Kavli Institute Director Bruce Winstein said it is now generally recognized that particle physics and cosmological physics are coming together very rapidly.

    “We think that is the most exciting and fruitful area in all the physical sciences, and it promises to remain that way for some time,” said Winstein, the Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor in Physics. “We are happy and proud that the Kavli Foundation has made this very generous gift to our university to enhance our NSF Center. The institute has a very strong fellows program that currently has 10 of the best young scientists hungry for this interdisciplinary environment.”

    The institute already has allocated $1 million of the Kavli funds to develop and build an instrument that will enable NSF’s South Pole Telescope, led by John Carlstrom, the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, to make ultra-sensitive measurements of the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the afterglow of the big bang. Detection of particular patterns in this polarization can reveal the physics of the universe in its earliest imaginable stages.

    Kavli, a Norwegian-born physicist, business leader, innovator and philanthropist, came to the United States in 1956. Two years later, he founded the Kavlico Corporation, which became one of the world’s largest suppliers of sensors for aeronautic, automotive and industrial applications.