The Kavli Foundation
NewsletterVol. 5, Issue 1 2012
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. For more information, visit:
Kavli IPMU
Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe. (Courtesy: University of Tokyo)

In February, the University of Tokyo announced the establishment of an endowment by The Kavli Foundation for the Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe.


The Institute, which will now be known as the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU), probes the biggest mysteries in modern cosmology by seeking answers through collaborative research conducted by a wide range of scientists, including mathematicians, theoretical physicists, experimental physicists and astronomers. In less than five years, the Institute has grown from an idea to a productive and prestigious research center that gathers 200 researchers under one roof, with more than half from outside Japan. Feature story and press release

The Institute's director, Hitoshi Murayama, joins deputy directors Hiroaki Aihara and Yoichiro Suzuki in a discussion about the latest research at the Kavli IPMU, what's in store over the coming months, and the collaborative and international atmosphere that shapes daily life at the Institute. Full story


NanospotSearching for the First Stars


FIrst Stars Graphic
Artist's concept of the very early universe, just after first stars began bursting onto the scene. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC) 
In November, astronomers announced they had found two immense clouds of pristine gas, nearly 12 billion light years away. These two clouds of gas, astronomers suspect, are the stuff from which the first stars were born. The discovery was one of several last year in the quest to lift the curtain on the universe's "dark ages," an epoch that theorists say dominated for several hundred million years after the Big Bang when the universe was shrouded in a fog of neutral hydrogen gas.


The Kavli Foundation spoke with three prominent researchers about these recent discoveries, and how direct and indirect observations are helping us get closer to understanding how the first stars and galaxies were created. 
  • George Becker, Fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at Cambridge University in the U.K.;
  • Richard Ellis, Steele Professor of Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology;
  • Avi Loeb, Chair of the Department of Astronomy and Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at Harvard University.

The roundtable discussion is available online. Full story 

NanospotCharging Up the Auto Industry


This year's iconic North American International Auto Show featured a wave of new hybrid and electric cars, suggesting the vehicles have truly come into their own.


Tesla Electric Vehicle
The Tesla electric vehicle wirelessly charging at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. (Credit: Doug Kline)
But what's the future for the technology needed to power these cars? In particular, in the near future, can the industry expect an electric car battery that, along with being economical, delivers the performance needed to make these cars a common site on the streets?


The Kavli Foundation brought together three noted experts to discuss the future of electric cars, the promise of building ever lighter, more powerful batteries, and what is needed for the nascent electric car battery industry to continue to grow.

  • Seth Fletcher, Senior Editor at Popular Science and author of the 2011 book "Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy;"
  • Clare Grey, Professor in the University of Cambridge's Department of Chemistry and winner of The Royal Society's 2011 Kavli Medal and Lecture;
  • Jeff Sakamoto, Assistant Professor in the Michigan State University's Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.

The roundtable discussion is available online. Full story 

AstrospotRecipe for a Robot: What It Takes to Make a Social Robot   


Georgia Tech's Simon, Simon, a robot designed to learn from humans the way a person would. (Credit: Gary Meek)
While robots with personalities and expressive facial features begin to find a place in real-world settings, scientists and engineers are seeking ways to deepen how these robots engage and relate to people -- particularly in service as teaching aides, helping patients undergo physical rehabilitation, or as companions to elderly confined to nursing homes.  


To learn more about these "social robots," the Foundation discussed the topic with three groundbreaking researchers.   

  • Maja Matarić - Professor and Director of the Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems, University of Southern California;
  • Ayse Saygin - Assistant Professor and Faculty Member of the Kavli Institute of Brain and Mind, University of California San Diego;
  • Andrea Thomaz - Assistant Professor and Director of the Social Intelligent Machines Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology.

The roundtable discussion is available online. Full story  

Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics

South Pole TelescopeDuring its first decade as a Physics Frontier Center, the Kavli Institute helped to establish the current cosmological paradigm. Now the Institute is launching its second decade with 21 key collaborators around the country and 15 institutional partners, including Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Full story 


Astrophysics & Theoretical Physics
Researchers Say Galaxy May Swarm with "Nomad Planets"


Nomad Object
An artistic rendition of a nomad object wandering the interstellar medium. (Credit: Image by Greg Stewart/SLAC)

For every typical star in our galaxy, there may be up to 100,000 "nomad planets" not tied to any solar system, according to a new study by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology. If observations confirm the estimate, this new class of celestial objects will impact current theories of planet formation and could change our understanding of the origin and abundance of life. Full Story 


More Astrophysics News

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Special Feature: Announcing the Kavli IPMU
Spotlight: Searching for the First Stars
Spotlight: Charging Up the Auto Industry
Spotlight: Recipe for a Robot
Profile: KICP
Science News

KITP Awarded $2.5 Million by Simons Foundation     


The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) at UC Santa Barbara has been awarded $2.5 million by the Simons Foundation to support the work of leading scientists on extended visits at the world-renowned research center.


Every year, the KITP hosts hundreds of leading theoretical physicists who come to Santa Barbara to explore some of the most challenging scientific questions of our time. They meet with other experts in similar and overlapping fields to explore new ideas and form pioneering collaborations.


The Simons Distinguished Visiting Scientist program will provide financial assistance to supplement sabbatical leaves provided by the researchers' home institutions.

Full story





New Window on the Life of the Brain


A new study of remarkable size and scope offers clues to how the human brain develops, from its early stages into old age.


The landmark research, led by Nenad Sestan, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology and a member of Yale's Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, found that gene expression in the human brain is exquisitely choreographed across developmental periods and brain regions. This tailoring of gene expression occurs particularly during the prenatal period, during which there are rapid changes in brain structure and function.


In addition to its contribution to our knowledge of normal neural development, the study may help clarify why some people are more susceptible to particular psychiatric or neurological disorders, especially autism and schizophrenia, which many scientists believe are caused by perturbations in early brain development. Full story

More Neuroscience News


Researchers Advance Use of Photons for Transmitting Information reported that a team of physicists, including researchers from the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience in Delft, had taken another step toward realizing quantum photonic technologies. The researchers did this by demonstrating how to quickly manipulate single photons at the same wavelengths used in existing optical telecommunications networks. 

Using photons instead of electrons to transmit information could lead to faster and more secure ways to communicate, among other advantages. The findings were published in
Physical Review Letters. Full story



US National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium program has entered into a new partnership with Israel. This new collaboration was initiated this year following a visit to the NAS by Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, to strengthen scientific and technological collaboration between American and Israeli researchers.   


Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology (KIND). Nynke Dekker, KIND Professor of Physics, joined the executive board of the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter, which promotes, co-ordinates and finances fundamental physics research in the Netherlands. Dekker is the first female member of  FOM's executive board. Last year, Dekker was also one of four female scientists to receive a prize from the Dutch Network of Women Professors on the occasion of the organization's 10th anniversary.  


Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU). Brice Menard, Professor at Johns Hopkins Univerisity and Visiting Associate Scientist at Kavli IPMU, won a 2012 Sloan Research Fellowship. Administered by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, these fellowships seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise. Menard is one of 126 young scientists and economists to receive the award this year in recognition of their potential to contribute to academic advancement.  


Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics  (KITP). Kanal Das, Associate Professor Physics at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, has been selected as a scholar for the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara for 2012-14.     


Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (KISN).   In the January 6 edition of Science, PhD student Asgeir Kobro-Flatmoen published a short essay on the future practice of science. The essay is part of an initiative by Science called NextGen Voices, which asks young scientists to write on specified topics. Kobro-Flatmoen's topic: How will the practice of science change in your lifetime? What will improve and what new challenges will emerge?