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Fermilab Gets $5 Million Donation June 2, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Fermilab, science.

An anonymous donor has given $5 million to the University of Chicago to make up some of the budget short-fall at Fermilab. While it won’t prevent the layoffs from proceeding, it does mean an end to the furlough program. This was a crazy program where

This is old news now. But I was thinking about it over the last several days. This has something in common with another donation that was recently made for the LSST. At the University of Washington I’m used to seeing donations for buildings. And the result is a name on a large room, or perhaps the whole building is named after the donor or someone important to them. At least a plaque.

But these donations are different. There is no building that will remain for 50 years with the donor’s name. No room (though perhaps a plaque somewhere). The donor is donating funding for science. As I have mentioned before, at some level stepping in where our government has failed to step up to the plate. I think it is fantastic that people look beyond just getting their name on a building for 50 years. Thanks to all the donors who have taken this approach.

I was trying to think of a way a donor could get the best of both worlds. While we need buildings and rooms to do our science, we also need the money to build the equipment and the people to come up with the ideas. You could argue that people are the most important ingredient, actually. So there is another form of donation – endowed positions or named chairs. These are often named (“Kenneth K. Young Memorial Professor of Physics“). That way a donor would contribute perhaps the most important resource – intellectual power – and would still have their name associated their donation for a long period of time, as with getting their name on the building. Heck for the cost of a building you could probably setup endowments for quite a few prestigious named chairs. For less money one could do the same for graduate students – the lifeblood of any high quality research program.

Since both of these are endowments, the students or professors are paid off the interest earned by the endowment – which means they last “forever.” From a science and university point of view this is a fantastic deal.

In the meantime I’ll keep gifting small amounts of cash to our department and a few others that I’ve been associated with (i.e. until I strike it rich… probably never!).


1. Anon - June 3, 2008

There is no reason why scientific staff or postdoctoral positions, buildings, or equipment (e.g. an accelerator, or part thereof) could not be named donation opportunities at national laboratories just like they are at universities.

The utter lack of fundraising by management of particle physics laboratories is, in my view, an avoidance of duty and largely responsible for the present state of high-energy physics.

Pier et al. need a kick in the rump to get out there and chat with prospective donors. Why is there _no_ web page for donations to FNAL/FRA? It’s part of his job. Let the deputy(s) do the day-to-day management.

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