The Kavli Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting basic science research, was awarded Yale School of Medicine’s highest honor, the Peter Parker Medal, in a ceremony on April 5. The foundation, begun in 2000 by the late physicist, business leader, and inventor Fred Kavli, was recognized for its enduring confidence and transformative investments in neuroscience at Yale.

“Fred Kavli believed in the transformative power of basic research. At Yale, the impact of his foresight has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine, at the medal ceremony. “We live in a time when most funders prefer to support translational research. While that research area, of course, is essential, it is an emphasis that only heightens the importance of the path Kavli has taken.”

The Kavli Foundation, which seeks to advance science for the benefit of humanity and to promote increased understanding and support for scientists and their work, launched the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience (KIN) at Yale in 2004. KIN is now one of 20 Kavli Institutes worldwide conducting fundamental research in neuroscience, nanoscience, astrophysics, and theoretical physics. Initially dedicated to understanding human thought, KIN’s focus has expanded to include many of the biggest questions in neuroscience, including how neural cells and circuits develop and the role they play in brain health and disease.

Inspired by KIN’s successes since its initial launch, the Kavli Foundation has made two additional commitments to supplement KIN, which now has the largest endowment of any Yale institute dedicated to the sciences. This funding has enhanced Yale’s reputation as a world leader in neuroscience and provided groundbreaking support for interdisciplinary brain research. The institute recently established a neurotechnology core where Yale scientists can develop and access powerful experimental tools, including microscopes that can image the inner workings of brain cells at the nanoscale.

“The Kavli Institute brings some of the best scientists from around the university together, stimulating fresh ideas and new approaches to studying the brain,” said KIN’s director Pietro De Camilli, M.D., the John Klingenstein Professor of Neuroscience and professor of cell biology.

KIN enables high-risk, high-reward ideas with the potential to transform neuroscience through pilot projects. These projects are frequently led by multidisciplinary teams of Yale researchers at the intersections of different scientific fields. In 2017, for example, KIN’s Innovative Research Awards have been awarded to researchers in the departments of genetics, computer science, neuroscience, and neurology, and at the Yale Child Study Center.

“Funding from KIN enables Yale scientists to test bold ideas that could not be funded through traditional channels. That freedom is vital to scientific progress,” said De Camilli.

“It is a privilege to receive the Peter Parker Medal—a testament to Fred Kavli’s belief in philanthropy as a tool to help scientists do their best work,” said Robert W. Conn, Ph.D., CEO and president of the Kavli Foundation, who attended the ceremony. “Since 2004, it has been extremely gratifying to watch Yale researchers push the frontiers of neuroscience as they strive to unlock the mysteries of the human brain. I hope that the foundation’s ongoing support will accelerate their progress.”

The Kavli Foundation has touched the School of Medicine in ways that go beyond KIN. Two recipients of the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience, a bi-annual award for scientific excellence that often has foreshadowed the Nobel Prize, have been Yale professors Pasko Rakic, M.D., Ph.D., the Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Neuroscience and professor of neurology, who served as KIN’s inaugural director; and James E. Rothman, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Cell Biology, chair of the Department of Cell Biology, and 2013 Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine for his work in vesicle trafficking.

The foundation also supports Yale’s Neuroscience of the Mind Program, which is helping students from all academic disciplines confront problems in neuroscience in new ways. They recently helped establish the Kavli Summer Fellowships in Neuroscience with a vision to inspire new leaders of the future through a summer research program for Yale undergraduates who have a major or focus in neuroscience.

The award ceremony was part of a two-day series of events involving leaders of the Kavli Foundation as well as distinguished scientists from the Yale community and beyond. President Peter Salovey, Ph.D. ’86, hosted a breakfast on April 6, followed by a neuroscience symposium.

The Peter Parker Medal is named in honor of a 19th century alumnus of the School of Medicine, Yale College, and Yale Divinity School, who in 1835 founded the first western hospital in Guangzhou, China, which specialized in diseases of the eye. It is awarded for outstanding contributions to medicine and to the well-being of Yale School of Medicine.

Prior medal recipients

1994 John B. Ogilvie, M.D. ’34 and Nicholas P.R. Spinelli, M.D. ’44

1996 Arthur C. Crovatto, M.D. ’54

1997 Arthur Ebbert Jr., M.D.

1999 Elizabeth Dole

2001 Samuel D. Kushlan, M.D. ’35

2002 Paul E. Farmer, M.D., Ph.D.

2003 Lycurgus M. Davey, M.D. ’43

2004 Martin E. Gordon, M.D. ’46

2006 William H. Prusoff, Ph.D.

2011 Herbert W. Boyer, Ph.D. and Marigrace Boyer

2014 The G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation