Fifty years after Fred Kavli immigrated to the United States from Norway, he started the journey from entrepreneurship to philanthropy by establishing the Kavli Foundation in 2000 to support scientific research and education.
In the 11 years since, the foundation has handed out millions of dollars in prizes recognizing research excellence in three types of science and established research institutes at 15 universities worldwide.
At a Channel City Club event held at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort on Dec. 8, Kavli told audience members that he’s lived the American dream and wants to encourage students to do the same. The Kavli Foundation helps by providing them with a network of institutes and, in some cases, financial support.
Three Kavli Prizes are awarded once every two years for seminal discoveries in the selected fields. The winners receive $1 million each.
“One hundred years from now, people will recognize Kavli Prizes as prestigious as, or more so, than Nobel Prizes,” said UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, who introduced Kavli.
Kavli said he selected the areas of astrophysics, neuroscience and nanoscience — the “largest, smallest and most complex” types of science, as he put it — because they have long-range benefits, and students in those areas tend to have difficulty getting support.
“Science impacts everything. Practically everything we touch is influenced by science and research,” he said.
Kavli, who was educated in physics at the Norwegian Institute of Technology, founded the Kavlico Corporation in Los Angeles in 1960. It went on to become one of the world’s largest suppliers of sensors for aeronautic, automotive and industrial applications.
“As a student, we studied hard but never admitted it. We also partied hard, and bragged about that,” Kavli told CCC members at the event. “I started Kavlico Corporation two years after arriving in the United States. I don’t think I could have done that in any other country. And if I had known how difficult it was, I probably never would have started. But I have no regrets.”
The Kavli Foundation is dedicated to scientific research aimed at improving the human condition and the quality of life for people around the world. Kavli, a Santa Barbara resident, established his first research institute at UC Santa Barbara. There are nine other institutes at universities in the United States, three in Europe and two in China.
Channel City Club was founded 65 years ago in Santa Barbara to provide the community with a local venue for speakers on state, national, and international issues. Its speakers are professionals in their chosen fields and are not paid by the CCC.