A Letter of Tribute to Fred Kavli

On this day, exactly one year ago, one great Norwegian passed: Fred Kavli (1927-2013) was an engineer, entrepreneur, leader and—most importantly—a philanthropist. On my way to work, whether it is here in Cambridge or home in Trondheim, I pass one of his many living legacies. In Trondheim, it would be the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience  at NTNU (with fresh Nobel Prize winners in Medicine). In Cambridge it is the Kavli Institute for Cosmology. Both these examples are beneficiaries of Kavli’s passion for science, and both perform high-risk, world-class research in their respective areas. Mr. Kavli certainly deserves a letter of tribute.

A tribute letter to Fred Kavli, posted at one of the many Kavli Institutes.

A tribute letter to Fred Kavli posted at one of the Kavli Institutes for advanced research (Cambridge University, UK).


I share two common grounds with Fred Kavli (and all comparison ends there); we have both spent some of our most formative years at the Firda Gymnas and later the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). It would not be wrong to name Kavli “the greatest alumni ever” of both these educational institutions. In an interview in 2012, Kavli remembers his time as a teenager at Firda Gymnas (1945-1948) as follows;”Most of all, we wanted to lie on our backs and stare at the sky, while we talked about life, religion and the nature (…) In these post-war years, we had many discussions on what we should do with our lives. What is the purpose of life?” [1]

After earning a fortune on the Kavli Corporation, a company he started alone and developed into a billion dollar business, Kavli seemed to have found his answer to the big question. He decided to become a philanthropist — a benefactor to humankind. With his background as a physicist from NTNU, he decided to fund cutting-edge research in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics. “These are areas that post big questions and have particular impact potentials”, he claimed [2] He established The Kavli Foundation in 2000 to “advance science for the benefit of humanity and to promote public understanding and support for scientists and their work”.

Kavli was a man with visions: “I believe in science” [2] (…) “I believe in human kind” [3]. If more people shared his vision, the world would become a better place. . .

References / further reading

  1. Det er viktigere ting i livet enn penger, (There are more important things in life than money), Interview with Fred Kavli by Maria Amelie, Teknisk Ukeblad, September 2012.
  2. Den gavmilde milliardæren (The generous billionair), Interview with Fred Kavli by Ingrid Splide, forskning.no, December 2006
  3. A Philanthropist of Science Seeks to Be Its Next Nobel, Interview with Fred Kavli by Dennis Overby, New York Times, April 19, 2005