The Philanthropic Principle


One of my childhood friends is now a blossoming opera singer at the Los Angeles Opera, It’s always a pleasure to catch up whenever we happen to be in the same part of the state/country/world, partially because our young professional careers actually have a lot more in common than one would expect.

Both theoretical physics and opera are disciplines that contribute intangibly to human culture without immediate `practical’ applications. Both fields require a lot of specialized training under a set of mentors, and social networking (even if you don’t realize it) plays a significant role. Also, both opera and theoretical physics benefit immensely from the generosity of philanthropists.

Though I guess the proper term in the arts is `patron,’ especially for those who give grants to young singers for new performance dresses. When I heard about that particular sort of philanthropy, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to have Fred Kavli buy me a nice pair of Birkenstocks and jeans so that I could be comfy in front of a chalkboard. 🙂 But even without the sandals and jeans, I made the following graphic as a thank you to Mr. Kavli for his generosity to fundamental scientific research:

Fig 1. A thank you card to Fred Kavli, featuring the SLAC building named in his honour.

Recently philanthropy in particle physics was the subject of an article in Symmetry Magazine, with a nice nod to Peter Ogden for his contribution to Durham University’s Ogden Center for Fundamental Physics (which includes the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology).

The article briefly touches on the economics of philanthropy, discussing the Perimeter Institute as a research centre whose day-to-day operations are supported by public funds while private donations go toward an endowment to “safeguard the longer-term future.” A similar point of view was the motivation for a gift from the Hewlett Foundation to the University of California, Berkeley.

Anyway, I guess it really isn’t said enough, so a sincere thank you to the Fred Kavlis and Mike Lazaridises of the world who help make theoretical physics research possible.

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