Latest Awards from the New Hot Shot in Pennsylvania Science Funding

While surfing the web at a spry 92, Charles E. Kaufman came across the inspiration for his philanthropic legacy. The resulting foundation in Kaufman's memory just made its second round of grants, funding the brightest minds in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Inspired by the Welch Foundation in Texas, which was able to leverage a modest endowment into hundreds of millions in grants over the years, Kaufman decided he wanted his wealth to support high-impact science awards in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Kaufman worked for more than three decades in product development for Calgon, having earned his master’s in chemistry from Carnegie Mellon. And while he became involved in conservation later in life, his passion was always for the transformative potential of big ideas in basic science. 

When Kaufman passed in 2010 at 97, he left $50 million to the Pittsburgh Foundation, the community foundation that now houses the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation. The new funder has two annual sets of awards, one for early career scientists, and the other for collaborative projects of established scientists. Kaufman made its first round of grants in 2013, and its second round in July for nearly $2 million, across nine grants at six PA universities. 

Here are a few highlights from the funder’s 2014 awards:

Matt Youngman, an assistant professor in biology at Villanova, won an Investigator award for early career scientists, for his work studying immunity and aging in a species of roundworm. Study of the worm in recent years has shed some light into the cellular mechanics of age and longevity, and Youngman’s research is on how the immune system changes as we age. 

Gregory Lang, assistant professor in biological sciences at Lehigh University, won the same award for his work on the how evolution chooses its paths. In other words, if we could rewind and start evolution all over again, how would the outcome differ, and how much of it comes down to chance or determinism?

Ayusman Sen at Penn State’s department of chemistry, won an award for more established scientists to conduct collaborative work, along with Anna Balazs at the University of Pittsburgh. Their research is in “microrobotics,” the design of synthetic materials that are self-powered and can behave autonomously, to form tiny robotic systems. Sen’s past work involved placing tiny synthetic motors inside live human cells, and steering them magnetically.

To learn more about the Kaufman Foundation, check out our IP profile, and see the guidelines here.