The Kavli Foundation: Grants for Science Research


OVERVIEW: Since 2000, the Kavli Foundation has founded several Kavli Institutes across the world, million-dollar Kavli Prizes, and Kavli Professorships. The foundation supports work in astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics.

IP TAKE: Kavli is extremely selective about who receives funds, but those awarded enjoy tremendous freedom and often long-term support. All Kavli programs are elite and by invitation only.

PROFILE: Created in 2000 by Fred Kavli, scientist and businessman, the Kavli Foundation gained notoriety in 2004 when three of the researchers on its payroll won Nobel Prizes in one year. The foundation seeks to “advanc[e] science for the benefit of humanity and promot[e] increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.” Awards are given through a series of high-profile, highly exclusive programs, whose small number of beneficiaries win an impressive combination of cash and are given a lot of discretion in their research. The Kavli Foundation focuses on ‘big’ question research in  astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics.

The signature program is the Kavli Prize, made to researchers in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience every other year, with a cash award of $1 million. Anyone is able to present a nomination, as long as the nominee is still living and the person is not nominating him/herself. Past grantees can be seen at the prize’s website.

But the Kavli Institutes, a high profile series of research centers at universities across the globe, is the foundation’s largest expenditure. The foundation initially established each institute with a $7.5 million grant to a university's endowment, matched by the university. Then it provides annual interest toward the center. The endowments yield about $400,000 annually. In 2013, the institute announced that it would increase the contribution to each future institute up to $10 million, which provides about $1 million a year in unrestricted funds when matched. Funds are fully discretionary, with no strings attached.

In contrast to program-specific funding, the Kavli Institute seeks to leverage the resources of an existing university with a respected staff and its own core funding to explore edgier projects that are more ambitious or might not yield short-term results or applications.

The other Kavli outlets for science research are a series of symposia and meetings (by invitation only) that gather researchers from these same fields to share ideas and begin collaborations. Separately, there are seven Kavli Professorships established at six universities. The foundation was also one of the early supporters of the BRAIN initiative, a combined government-foundation-private-sector-funded initiative “focused on revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain.”

While access to funding is clearly restricted, grantseekers can contact the foundation for more information about its programs here.


  • Miyoung Chun, Executive Vice President of Science Programs

  • Christopher Martin, Science Program Officer

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