David and Patricia Atkinson have pledged $80 million to Cornell University to endow the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, a research center created in 2007 to study problems related to energy, the environment, and economic development, the Wall Street Journal reports.
"The environment, energy, and economic development are heavily interrelated; problems of sustainability can only be addressed with a multidisciplinary approach," said David Atkinson, who retired in 1992 as general partner of Philadelphia-based investment counseling firm Miller, Anderson, & Sherrerd LLP. "As the pressures of rapid population growth take hold, to avoid a crisis it's important to address issues of sustainability preemptively."
To that end, Atkinson initially funded the center as a pilot program that brought together 220 faculty fellows from 55 departments to engage in research and participate in dozens of topical discussions and forums. Through a fund it created, the center has awarded $7 million to engineers, chemists, and professors working on a range of projects, including the creation of solar capture technologies and methods of converting algae into biofuel. Recipients of that funding have been able to obtain an additional $55 million from outside funders.
"Mr. Atkinson's approach to the center follows the true scientific method: testing a hypothesis with a pilot grant, showing a substantial return, and increasing the funding," said Cornell president David Skorton. "This is truly active philanthropy."