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New Research Centre to Explore Beginnings of Universe

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:49
Published on Wednesday, 08 November 2006 00:00
The University of Cambridge and the Kavli Foundation have announced their intention to establish a new institute to probe the beginnings of the cosmos at the University of Cambridge. Led by Professor George Efstathiou, the Kavli Institute for Cosmology will be supported by a multimillion dollar endowment from the Kavli Foundation which is dedicated to advancing scientific knowledge “for the benefit of humanity”.

The researchers of the new institute will seek to make major scientific advances in our knowledge and understanding of the universe, bringing together scientists from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, the Cavendish Laboratory (the Department of Physics) and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.

“Cosmology is one of the most exciting frontiers of science,” said entrepreneur and philanthropist Fred Kavli, founder of the US-based Kavli Foundation. “It seeks to answer the deepest, most fundamental questions about the universe. Cambridge has such a stellar record of making fundamental discoveries in science throughout the ages and, with its traditions of excellence and leading-edge science teams, I have great hope that the Kavli Institute at Cambridge will make major discoveries in the future.”

The Institute will focus on the physics of the early Universe. Scientists believe that the universe was formed in a “Big Bang” many billions of years ago in a dense primordial soup of matter and energy and rapidly expanded thereafter. The physics of those first minutes after creation has been a subject of intense study and debate over the last few decades, and the Cambridge Institute will continue probing some of the big open questions in cosmology, such as how fast did the universe expand, and how did the first stars and galaxies evolve?

Cambridge has a long tradition of research in cosmology and astronomy, spanning Newton’s discovery of the law of gravitation over 300 years ago, to the discovery of pulsars and the development of the Big Bang model of the Universe in modern times. The new Institute will build on these foundations and enable theoretical, experimental and observational cosmologists to work together on ambitious new projects using state-of-the-art facilities, including giant telescopes and space satellites.

The Institute will form part of an international network of Kavli Foundation-funded research centres at other universities around the world, and will collaborate with its sister centres in China and the US. This is the first time that the Foundation, which was set up in 2000 by Fred Kavli, has established an institute in the United Kingdom.

Professor George Efstathiou, Director of Cambridge University’s Institute of Astronomy said: “Cosmology is one of the most exciting areas in science and it will be a privilege for us to host the new Kavli Institute for Cosmology at Cambridge. We are grateful to Fred Kavli, the Kavli Foundation, and the University of Cambridge for making this possible”.

Lord Rees, President of the Royal Society, Astronomer Royal and Master of Trinity College Cambridge, welcoming the announcement said: “Ideas on our cosmic origins have wide cultural resonance and the current fields of study in Cosmology are challenging 'growth areas' in fundamental science. To remain at the forefront of research requires the best instrumentation, the most powerful computers, and rigorous theoretical insight. The Kavli Foundation's generous support will enhance Cambridge's role in advancing understanding of this exciting subject”.

Academic staff will be seconded to the Kavli Institute from the three departments to work on flagship science projects of typically five years duration. It is anticipated that up to 50 academic staff will be involved. The Kavli endowment will be used to employ and support outstanding scientists early in their careers. These Kavli Institute Fellows will be given the freedom to develop their own independent research and take part in world-class projects.

The Institute will also work to promote the public understanding of science, by organising public lectures, scientific symposia and other outreach activities as appropriate in consultation with the Foundation.

Professor Alison Richard, Vice Chancellor said: "Cambridge is very pleased to be forging this new partnership with the Kavli Foundation. We applaud and appreciate Fred Kavli's determination to accelerate, through international collaboration, our understanding of the Universe, and we are delighted to join this endeavour".

Notes for Editors:

1 Fred Kavli was born in Norway in 1927 and grew up on a farm in Eresfjord, in the southern part of the country. He began his career selling lumber for furniture manufacturers before studying for a degree in applied physics at the Norwegian Institute of Technology. After graduating, he travelled to the United States and worked in Los Angeles with a small company making sensors for the control systems on Atlas Missiles. In 1958 he set up his own company, Kavlico, making sensors for airlines, military aircraft, and automobiles. By 2000, when he sold the company, it had 1,500 employees and was doing $167 million a year worth of business. Today he is dedicated to building the Kavli Foundation and continues to build assets for his philanthropic work by running his own real estate development and investment company, Sunbelt Enterprises, in Oxnard, California.

2 The Kavli Foundation

Dedicated to the advancement of science for the benefit of humanity, the Kavli Foundation supports scientific research, honors scientific achievement, and promotes public understanding of scientists and their work through an international program of research institutes, prizes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience. Established in 2000, its headquarters are in Oxnard, California.

In addition to the Cambridge Kavli Institute, the other Kavli Institutes are: the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara; the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University; the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago; the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at Caltech; the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science; the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology in Holland; the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale University; the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University; the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California, San Diego; the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics China at the Chinese Academy of Sciences; the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University in China; and the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology at Harvard University.

In addition to the Institutes, the Kavli Foundation seeks to reward achievement in basic prizes through the Kavli Prizes – three $1 million prizes that will be awarded every two years beginning in 2008 in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience. They will be presented in cooperation with the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Kavli's native country. A distinguished international panel of scientists will choose the recipients.

More information can be found at and

3 Professor George Efstathiou is Director of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Kings College, Cambridge. He began his career at the University of California, Berkeley, before moving to Cambridge in 1980 to work at the Institute of Astronomy. In 1988 he moved to Oxford University, where he was Head of Astrophysics until 1994. From 1988 to 1997 he was also a Senior Fellow of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. He returned to Cambridge to take up his current position in 1997.

Professor Efstathiou received the Maxwell Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics in 1990 and in 1997 was awarded the Robinson Prize in Cosmology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 2005 he was awarded the Heineman Prize of the American Astronomical Society jointly with his collaborator Professor Simon White. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1994.

He is particularly interested in the remnant or "background" radiation created at the time of the Big Bang. It is hoped that this study of remnant radiation will eventually answer some of the most profound questions in science, explaining how and why stars and galaxies were formed and probing the physics of the ultra-early Universe. He is currently a member of the Science Team of the Planck satellite, to be launched by the European Space Agency in 2008. The satellite's two-year mission will be to measure the anistropies and polarisation of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation with unprecedented accuracy.


Tom Kirk, Communications Office, University of Cambridge, Tel: 01223 332300, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Saswato Das at The Kavli Foundation, Tel: +1 (805) 278 7495. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  (note time difference of - 8 hours UK time)