UC Berkeley receives $20 million endowment for new nanoscience institute

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UC Berkeley announced the establishment of a new nanoscience institute on Oct. 3 that will be funded by a $20 million endowment to study energy-efficient processes in nature.

The Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute will be supported by a $10 million contribution from the Kavli Foundation and receive a matching contribution from UC Berkeley. The funds will support research regarding highly energy-efficient processes, such as the conversion of light into energy during photosynthesis, at the nanoscale.

Paul Alivisatos, a campus professor of nanoscience and the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will lead a team of scientists from multiple disciplines at the institute.

The Kavli Foundation, which works to increase public knowledge about the contributions of basic science to the betterment of humanity, has funded 17 institutions worldwide in the fields of astronomy, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics. The Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute is the fifth institution focused on nanoscience — science at the scale of atoms and molecules — to be endowed by the foundation.

According to Robert Conn, president of the Kavli Foundation, researchers at the institute will focus on studying aspects of quantum mechanics that are not yet well understood.

Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research, stressed the importance of the institute’s goal of studying energy at a fundamental level and not only its applications.

“When we think about energy, we think of power stations or hydroelectric schemes,” he said. “This is energy on the large scale. The rules on the nanoscale are different, and we don’t understand them as well as we could.”

The institute’s team will be composed of scientists with backgrounds in chemistry, electrical engineering, physics and biology, among others.

Fleming described the institute as a great opportunity to bring together researchers from a range of fields, allowing them to realize that the questions they are stuck on in their own work are underlying themes across multiple disciplines.

Peidong Yang, a campus professor of energy and co-director of the institute, expressed enthusiasm about the “unlimited research” that could take place at the institute.

“It’s unrestricted in that we don’t have to work toward a certain application or a specific device,” he said. “By not limiting ourselves in this way, we increase the potential for new ideas to arise.”

According to Conn, two organizations, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Philomathia Foundation, have already contributed $2.5 million to the institute, putting UC Berkeley halfway toward achieving its goal of matching the Kavli Foundation’s endowment.

The institute will be housed in the Solar Energy Research Center at the Berkeley lab and in the new Campbell Hall, which is expected to be completed in the next year.

Contact Chloee Weiner at [email protected].

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