Two $5 million gifts to support Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics

Institute directorship to be named for late UChicago astrophysicist David N. Schramm

The University of Chicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics has secured $10 million in new funding through two gifts: a $5 million gift from an anonymous alumnus and his wife and a match of $5 million from the Kavli Foundation.

The first gift will name the directorship of the institute in memory of the late David N. Schramm, a pioneering UChicago scholar of theoretical astrophysics.

KICP is a leading institute dedicated to deepening our understanding of the origin and evolution of the universe and the laws that govern it. The institute bridges the study of astronomy, astrophysics, and particle physics and trains the next generation of scientists to address compelling problems in cosmology. With 145 members spanning two University departments and two national laboratories—ranging from College undergraduates to senior faculty fellows—it has greatly impacted the scientific and educational communities.

The new funds will dramatically increase the institute’s reach into its existing lines of study and support new program areas of research in cosmology and astrophysics.

“Funding from our foundation partners and individual alumni donors is essential to sustain the kind of forward-thinking, collaborative research taking place at the Kavli Institute,” said Prof. Angela V. Olinto, dean of the Physical Sciences Division. “Both gifts will support leading scientists as they continue to redefine the fields of cosmology and astrophysics in a way that honors David Schramm’s legacy.”

“In the 1970s and 1980s, Chicago was the birthplace of particle cosmology, and this gift will allow us to pursue new, exciting research opportunities,” said Rocky Kolb, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The institute’s director since 2019, Kolb will now hold title of the David N. Schramm Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics.

Schramm was a world leader in theoretical astrophysics and best known as a leading authority on the Big Bang model of the formation of the universe. He made fundamental contributions across the discipline of astrophysics, including to the primordial origin of elements and the number of families of elementary particles in the universe. He was perhaps more responsible than any other scientist for merging the fields of particle physics, nuclear physics and astrophysics in the study of the early universe.

Schramm served on the faculty for 23 years, eventually as the Vice President for Research and the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor in the Physical Sciences. He died in 1997 at the age of 52, when the twin-engine plane he was piloting crashed outside Denver.

“David was a visionary and a big presence. He is missed not only in Chicago and but also in the larger world of science,” said Michael Turner, senior strategic advisor at the Kavli Foundation and the Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and former KICP director at UChicago. “He thought big, pushed boundaries, and continues to inspire us to do the same.”

—This story was first published by the Physical Sciences Division