Fred Kavli’s gift to endow a chair in UCI’s Department of Earth System Science will support a process he greatly admires: scientific inquiry that seeks solutions to global problems.
Kavli, a Santa Barbara entrepreneur and philanthropist, wants to give leading scientists the opportunity to pursue their curiosity down paths that can lead to major discoveries.
This isn’t surprising to those who know how much the Norwegian-born physicist’s own curiosity has contributed to his success. It has been a powerful force in a life filled with adventure and achievement.
As early as age 13, while growing up in Norway, Kavli began to explore his entrepreneurial instincts. He and his brother made wood briquettes for automotive fuel during World War II, and the profits helped finance his education at the Norwegian Institute of Technology.
Curiosity—stimulated by stories about the time his father spent working in California—led Kavli to leave his homeland for America as a young man, with little more than his own ingenuity to rely on as he built a new life.
And throughout his distinguished career in California as founder and CEO of Kavlico Corporation, curiosity kept Kavli on the leading edge, prompting him to invent new technology when he saw a need that wasn’t being met. He holds patents for numerous technological breakthroughs that he made after founding Kavlico in 1958 to manufacture sensors for the aerospace and automotive industries.
Today, at an age when he could retire, play golf and travel more, he is working as hard as ever and encouraging others to pursue their curiosity in ways he hopes will have enormous benefits on a global scale.
He has established The Kavli Foundation and The Kavli Institute to support scientists who are exploring questions about the nature of the universe and how to enhance quality of life for people around the world.
Among the steps he has taken to encourage this work is a $1 million gift to create the Fred Kavli Chair in Earth System Science at UCI, which will be held by an internationally recognized researcher. Kavli also donated $100,000 toward construction of John V. Croul Hall, a 68,000-square-foot research center for the Department of Earth System Science.
Scientists in the pioneering department are studying the impact of human activity on the planet and processes that have the potential to change the Earth system during a human lifetime. Founded by UCI Chancellor Ralph Cicerone in 1989, the department has gained international attention for its research on atmospheric changes caused by greenhouse gas emissions, most notably findings on stratospheric ozone depletion that led to a 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for F. Sherwood Rowland.
“The research UCI’s Earth system scientists are doing is first class, and it is very important,” Kavli says. “The UCI Department of Earth System Science is unique in its field, providing the world with interdisciplinary research for a greater understanding of the global environment. This benefits all of us and all future generations.”
Jack Peltason, UC President Emeritus, UCI Chancellor Emeritus and a member of The Kavli Foundation’s board of directors, is impressed by Kavli’s dedication to promoting scientific progress. Peltason observes: “Throughout his career, Fred Kavli has had a deep interest in science and innovation as well as public service. All these interests are coming together in the work he is doing through The Kavli Foundation, which supports research that will have far-reaching benefits for humanity.
“By endowing the Fred Kavli Chair in Earth System Science at UCI and supporting other path-breaking research worldwide, Fred is helping to ensure scientific progress in many areas that are crucial to our quality of life today and for generations to come.”
In addition to endowing chairs at universities worldwide, The Kavli Foundation will give prizes to promote and recognize excellence in research focusing on specific areas that relate not only to improving the quality of life, but also to the possibility of extending the human life span.
Kavli says that even as a student leader in high school, he hoped someday he could do something that would bring long-range benefits to humanity. His success in business has given him the opportunity.
He spent most of his career turning Kavlico Corp. into one of the world’s largest suppliers of sensors for aeronautic, automotive and industrial applications. The company received many awards for innovation and excellence, and Kavli remained CEO and sole shareholder until two years ago when he sold the firm to a Canadian concern that was subsequently acquired by Solectron Corporation of Milpitas, Calif.
Today, he continues to build assets for his philanthropic work by running his own real estate development and investment company, Sunbelt Enterprises in Oxnard.
Kavli’s interest in business and science is balanced by a love for the arts. An avid art collector who favors Impressionist works and pieces from his homeland, he also loves theater. He has donated $2.5 million to the Alliance for the Arts, which named the Fred Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in his honor.
Although he remains an active arts patron, his primary focus today is science. Through The Kavli Foundation, he plans to establish up to 20 chairs in various fields, and hopes researchers around the world will collaborate with each other—within and across disciplines—to accelerate the pace of progress. But he also understands that the benefits of research are not always readily apparent.
“You have to support research even though you may not know exactly what the benefits will be in the long run,” he says. “When we look at history, we can see that the accumulation of knowledge has been very beneficial for mankind.
“The curiosity of the human being is what has brought us where we are today, and I have complete confidence that it will take us where we need to be in the future.”