Scientists mourn Kavli’s death

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Members of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, along with researchers around the world, were mourning the death of Fred Kavli, the Norwegian-American who donated large portions of his self-made fortune to fund scientific projects and reward research.

Fred Kavli took his philanthropy back home to Norway, and around the world. PHOTO: Kavli Foundation

Fred Kavli took his philanthropy back home to Norway, and around the world. PHOTO: Kavli Foundation

Kavli, who emigrated from Romsdal in 1956, died late last week at his home in Santa Barbara, California. He was 86.

He’s best known in Norway for founding The Kavli Foundation, with proceeds from the successful business he founded in California that produced sensors. Its sale in 2000 left him with the equivalent of NOK 2.5 billion, which he used to set up, among other things, The Kavli Prizes that are awarded every second year in the fields of astrophysics, neurology and nanoscience.

He became an honorary member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi) in Oslo, which worked with him to set up the prizes and the selection committee for who wins them. Academy officials called him a “towering figure” who left a legacy behind him. “He wanted to make a difference through his generous contribution to research,” the academy stated on its website.

“Fred Kavli’s death is a great loss for the academy,” said its secretary general Øivind Andersen. “He was the academy’s only honorary member outside of the royal family. The Kavli Prizes have given both science and the academy a major boost.”

He was educated as a civil engineer at NTH in Trondheim but traveled to the US and stayed there, as both an inventor and businessman. He built up his fortune through Kavlico Corporation, and in addition to the Kavli Prizes, he set up 17 Kavli Institutes at some of the world’s leading universities. One of them is at his alma mater, now known as NTNU.

The prizes were set up in 2005 and have been presented in Oslo, in cooperation between his Kavli Foundation, the Ministry of Education and the academy.  The first prizes were awarded in 2008.

Andersen said the foundation, the ministry and the academy will carry on and develop the prizes in Kavli’s name. “But everything will be different now, without Fred,” Andersen said. “He will be deeply missed.” Berglund