Money Well Spent: Foundations Support Cutting-Edge Science

By Jason Socrates Bardi

As the press conference winds down and colleagues, students, and members of the press give another rolling round of applause, K. Barry Sharpless, the world's newest Nobel laureate in chemistry comes once more to the podium to underline his thanks to the foundations, donors, and agencies that have supported his work.

Even when he came to The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) a decade before, Sharpless was renowned as an international leader in the field of chemical synthesis. When he came to TSRI in 1991 it was to accept the W.M. Keck Foundation Chair of Chemistry.

In 1996, Sharpless was one of over a dozen researchers in the Departments of Chemistry and Molecular Biology who would form the initial group of The Skaggs Institute of Chemical Biology. This institute, formed with a generous contribution of $100 million by businessman Sam Skaggs, awards the money to the investigators, who use it for their research as well as the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

TSRI distinguishes itself in the world of universities and research institutes by often applying large donations directly toward research. The strategy has been successful in supporting the type of cutting-edge research that the investigators pursue, and it has been critical in attracting top-notch investigators—including Sharpless and several others.

With the Skaggs Institute support, says, Skaggs Institute Director Julius Rebek, "you can take on projects that you could never really get immediate funding for from [government agencies], because there you have to show some results in just a couple of years. That makes a really big difference."

Others who have supported Sharpless's research—and who received Sharpless's heartfelt thanks—include philanthropist Arnold Beckman and The National Institutes of Health.


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TSRI's W.M. Keck Professor K. Barry Sharpless (left), who won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, speaks with TSRI's Chair of Neurobiology Gerald Edelman, winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Photo by Jason Socrates Bardi.