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Clare and Eugene Thaw - Thaws' gift to SFI adds a quiet setting for scholarly contemplation
When Eugene Thaw first came to New Mexico, SFI's founders were still conceiving a plan to create an independent, interdisciplinary research center to study complex systems.
Almost 30 years later, Mr. Thaw spoke at a luncheon in his honor held at that Institute, minutes after signing over his former Tesuque, New Mexico, home to SFI – a gift of property and residences that constitutes the largest one-time donation in the Institute's history.
The 36-acre estate, now referred to as SFI's Tesuque Campus, includes five buildings, art, books, furniture, a meadow, a koi pond with a waterfall, and conservation easements surrounding the property.A 10-minute drive from SFI's main campus, the estate is a quiet, contemplative setting for SFI scholars, visitors, and science meetings.
Why would Thaw, a retired art appraiser, lifelong art collector and philanthropist, and his wife Clare donate their estate to a research center?
He says he's often asked a similar question: why he chose the Morgan Library in New York to receive his collection of master drawings. "I generally say this," he says. "If civilization was ending and you could save one place to start it all over again, it would be the Morgan Library, because it's Shakespeare folios, it's Gutenberg bibles, it's Rembrandt collections. It's the most incredible repository of literary and aesthetic quality that mankind has ever achieved.
"When I think about the world of science, when everything is going down the tubes and when ignorance is on the rise, if you could save one place that might start discursive thinking all over again, it would be the Santa Fe Institute. They are equivalent intellectual centers."
"This gift is with both my head and my heart," he adds. "I hope that the Institute finds, by experiment and by living with it, the right way to handle it."
JoAnn and Bob Balzer - Art and science intertwined
SFI often brings art and science together through community programs, such as its collaborative concerts with the Santa Fe Symphony and its science-laden film screenings at the Center for Contemporary Arts. This commitment to community education, combined with its unique and interdisciplinary research, drew Dr. Bob Balzer and his wife JoAnn to the Institute 10 years ago.
"The connection between art and science is important to us because they are fields we both care about," says Bob, a computer scientist who works on artificial intelligence projects with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
JoAnn, a former college-level mathematics teacher and IBM employee, is now a community leader and arts advocate, serving on the boards of the Lensic Performing Arts Center, the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, the New Mexico Arts Commission, and the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. In 2010, President Obama appointed her a trustee of the Institute of American Indian Arts.
When the couple moved to Santa Fe in 1991, Bob found he missed the scientific lectures that were widely available at the University of Southern California. SFI has filled that need, he says. And, because SFI's lectures are open to the public, Bob feels the couple's involvement with the Institute helps support both research and community education.
Sandy and Michael Collins - SFI renames conference room to honor gift
SFI Trustee Michael Collins and his wife Sandy made a generous, unrestricted gift to SFI in late 2012. In recognition of the gift, the room previously known as the Medium Conference Room, located in the main building on SFI's Cowan Campus, is now known as the Michael and Sandy Collins Conference Room.
Collins has been President of Collins Capital since 1982. The firm today is a "Fund of Funds" invested in multi-manager strategies utilizing alternative, nontraditional investment strategies. He currently serves and has served on numerous boards in finance, venture capital, culture, and the arts. During his nearly two years on SFI's Board of Trustees, he has contributed greatly to the intellectual and fiscal well-being of the Institute.
"We are fortunate to have him with us, and we are very grateful for this generous gift," said SFI President Jerry Sabloff in an email announcement to SFI's staff and faculty.
Crowdfunders - SFI's first (successful) crowdfunding campaign offers lessons
Late in the evening of December 14, 2012, an anonymous "fueler" made a $450 contribution online to support SFI's first crowdfunding campaign. That donation, the last of 62 such gifts during the six-week fundraising window, brought the total amount raised to $3,000, the campaign's goal.
Reaching that goal means SFI postdoc Marcus Hamilton and his collaborators will be able to start a small but important research project they have long imagined. Their project will test the use of small satellite tracking devices, each the size of a cell phone, for gathering data about how indigenous people use the landscapes on which they depend.
Anthropologists believe there are some 100 uncontacted, indigenous human groups remaining in the world today. Most live in remote parts of the Amazon Basin, where deforestation, agriculture, illegal mining, and encroaching modernization press in on their horizons, threatening their forager-hunter-gatherer way of life.
Hamilton and his collaborators want to record the movements of such groups without having to go through the dangerous process of first contact, so policy makers can make better-informed decisions about conserving their habitats.
Today, crowdfunding is an increasingly common approach to philanthropic fundraising. Essentially, many individuals, often engaged through social networks and word of mouth, contribute small amounts online toward a stated funding goal. Many scientists have begun using crowdfunding as a way to generate financial backing for needed but underfunded scientific research.
SFI collaborated with the SciFund Challenge, a nonprofit that promotes science crowdfunding, and RocketHub to conduct its first test campaign.
"This was an interesting and novel approach to funding," says Hamilton. "It was very gratifying to see how interested people were in our research project, and we are extremely grateful for the support. Hopefully campaigns like this can help raise awareness of SFI and the diversity of its research to a new crowd."
Nancy Furlotti - Different ways of thinking
Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Nancy Furlotti supports SFI in part because its approach fits well with Jungian psychology, her specialty.
"We focus on the nature of behavior in all systems," she says. "And that's why SFI, which focuses on systems – the complexity of systems and problems – is quite similar to the way I like to look at things."
Jungian theory and complexity theory use archetypes or models to explain the behaviors of individual agents within a system, and the system itself. This is a broader, more comprehensive way of approaching problems and potential solutions in both psychology and science, she says.
"We need to support different ways of thinking, and SFI tends to do that," Furlotti says. "It looks at big issues and problems and thinks about them in a more global way."
Furlotti compares traditional, single-discipline scientific approaches to the story of the elephant and the three blind men, who independently conclude that the animal is like a snake, a rope, or a wall, depending on where each one feels the animal. Only a multidisciplinary perspective can consider the broader set of possible solutions.
"I think SFI is a great philanthropic investment because it supports this way of thinking," she says. "It also supports education at all levels, from postdocs and undergraduates to high-schoolers, so it's a wonderful organization that is supporting thinking across a very large spectrum."
Mickey and Jeanne Klein - Supporting creativity in every medium
For creativity to thrive, it must be nurtured. Mickey and Jeanne Klein have long nurtured the creative spirit through their support of contemporary art. Recently, they discovered that the same creative spirit is alive and well at SFI.
"It struck me how much I'd like to support not only arts but creative thinking…to honor the creative spirit no matter the discipline," Jeanne says. "At SFI they acknowledge that the creative spirit crosses disciplinary lines."
Jeanne used to think of science in terms of its disciplines – astronomy, biology, nuclear science, and the like. That changed last September, when she and Mickey attended their first SFI public lecture. SFI External Professor David Krakauer's Ulam Memorial Lecture on the co-evolution of biological intelligence and machine intelligence opened their minds to creative thinking that transcends and unites traditional scientific disciplines. Even more impressive, she says, was how David spoke in a way that was engaging and understandable to non-scientists.
The Kleins move comfortably in the world of contemporary art. They find that people who are new to art are often interested in what they see but afraid to discuss it. Science can have a similar effect; people without a science background are often curious but intimidated.
Jeanne says she and Mickey have appreciated the way SFI has opened its doors to the uninitiated public. Its researchers are not only willing to share their work but they are eager to explain it in a way that non-scientists can understand and get excited about.
"I love that they've reached out to people," she says. "Great minds attract great minds, no matter the discipline."
Pat Kuhlhoff - Giving Freely
There are many ways to support a cause. Pat Kuhlhoff gives freely of her time as a “serial volunteer” in Santa Fe, and she financially supports causes she believes in.
She says she supports SFI because its scientists also share freely, working hard to make complexity science accessible to the public. “The kind of work they’re doing is so vital to humanity, it would be criminal to keep it secret or for someone to own it. That’s one of the things I admire about their philosophy and how they work,” she says.
Kuhlhoff moved to Santa Fe in 1989. Like many retirees, she had an abundance of time and energy. She soon found outlets for her interest in history as a volunteer at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, the Santa Fe Opera, and the Palace of the Governors History Museum.
About 10 years ago she began attending SFI public lectures with friends. She especially enjoys the Stanislaw Ulam Memorial Lecture Series every fall because, with three lectures in three nights, the speakers can delve deeply into a complex issue and explain SFI’s creative approach to problems.
“I feel like I’m giving to an organization that is doing something for the betterment of the human race, and I think that’s really important in these times when there’s an awful lot of self-centeredness,” Kuhlhoff says. “This is a marvelous group of intelligent people who are figuring out how to improve the human condition.”
Karen and Greg Amadon - Joining a scientific revolution
Greg Amadon and Karen Heim Amadon were drawn to the Institute because, they say, complex systems theory is changing scientific thought and has the potential to address the biggest problems in our society.
"SFI is at the cutting edge of a reformation in science, where the 'soft' sciences, such as sociology and anthropology, are becoming hard sciences because of complexity theory," Greg says. "SFI leads that – they're the tip of the sword."
SFI is able to show the way in complexity science, Karen says, because of the spirit of collaboration that exists among its faculty and postdoctoral fellows. "It is fascinating to see the young, energetic postdocs working alongside the seasoned Nobel Prize winners," she says. "The whole dynamic is an exciting thing."
The Amadons give both time and resources to support the Institute, as donors and as SFI Trustees.
An inventor at heart, Greg developed several high-tech products and communications systems. Karen worked her way through college in the fashion industry in New York, then opened two real estate companies in the early 90's.
"I had the fortune to be a successful entrepreneur," Greg says. "Helping in a small way to make sure the Institute has the resources to apply their unusual expertise to the big questions is a great way to give back."
Andy Berg - 'What box? There is no box'
As a transactional attorney at the Debevoise and Plimpton law firm in New York, Andy Berg solves complicated puzzles. He works on large international acquisition transactions, which – like complex adaptive systems – take on a life of their own.
Every deal requires navigating a maze of international statutes and regulations in a changing environment. Berg says he enjoys the creativity required of ensuring that clients reach their goal of closing the deal when the path to that goal is never straight or clear. "You have to get used to the floor moving under your feet," he says.
The phrase "think outside the box" is a cliché, but Berg believes SFI takes the metaphor to a higher level. "What box? There is no box," he says. "When you have a problem, you approach it with any tools you have; you don't categorize it first."
Originally planning to be a mathematician, Berg changed career paths but retained his appreciation for the beauty and power of mathematics. One of the characteristics that lit his interest in SFI was its application of mathematics to a wide range of problems, including social sciences.
"Mathematics imposes a high level of discipline on your thinking and your ability to distill something to its essence," he says. Remaining involved in the sciences through SFI has been an outlet for his insatiable curiosity.
He believes SFI researchers are working on important problems, but their contributions are magnified because of the potential for an interdisciplinary approach to produce realworld results.
He explains his generosity to SFI this way: "Here's this spectacular little place doing incredible work. It has virtually no endowment, and its staff recently had to take a pay cut. It's an institution making an outsized contribution."
Jenne Britell - SFI fosters a 'life of the mind'
Jenne Britell is Chairman of the Board of United Rentals, Inc., the world's largest equipment rental company. She is also a director of Crown Holdings, Inc., Quest Diagnostics, Inc., the U.S. Russia Investment Fund, and the U.S. Russia Foundation for Entrepreneurship and the Rule of Law. In March 2010 she was named a senior managing director of Brock Capital Group LLC. She has held senior management positions at several major corporations and has served on many boards of directors. She was just named one of six Outstanding Directors of public companies for 2011 by the Outstanding Directors Exchange, a division of the Financial Times. Her thoughts follow:
Update: When did you first hear about SFI?
Britell: I've known about the Institute for years, but it really came to my attention just over a year ago when I sat next to SFI Science Board member Liz Bradley at the 10th anniversary of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Liz told me about the research going on at SFI, the colloquia, the lectures that are open to the public, and I was intrigued. I later visited with SFI VP for Development Nancy Deutsch and got to meet some of the researchers and leadership.
Update: Why is SFI's work meaningful to you?
Britell: I have always been interested in a "life of the mind," and I think there is great opportunity for research that crosses disciplines. I know SFI doesn't use the word "applied" very often, but I think there is enormous potential to translate its work into outcomes that are good for civilization. In particular, I think the economics and risk work is important. Also, I started my career as a historian, so the historiography work that SFI Faculty Chair David Krakauer is doing is interesting to me. And I'm struck by the Institute's science and math education programs for young people. The more I learn about SFI, the more of its work I find fascinating.
Update: What are the most important contributions SFI can make?
Britell: The Institute attracts outstanding scholars from many different fields to work on a variety of problems, which is important in its own right. The knowledge we have today is a result of such thinking in the past. If we want society to move forward, we need to have places where a life of the mind flourishes. There are so many compelling needs and questions right now. Places like SFI must be supported.
Bill Dedmon - Taking refuge in science
Like other corporate refugees living in Taos, Bill Dedmon escaped the business world 10 years ago to be close to the things that matter – skiing and serious hiking. But lately his focus has returned to his intellectual roots in the sciences.
"I've developed an appreciation for a wide variety of topics in science," he says. "That's what turns me on about SFI. I embrace the wide diversity of thought that comes out of it."
A contrarian by nature, Dedmon has always been a dilettante rather than a specialist. Though he was a pre-med major in college, he ultimately chose the MBA program at Harvard, followed by a successful career as an investment banker.
Whether by choice or by chance, his career kept him close to science and technology as the greatest new ideas in business were coming out of applied research through the tech boom years. "It was the leading edge of capitalism in its best form," he says.
A problem Dedmon sees, in both the corporate world and among many not-forprofits, is that leaders are too focused on short-term results, often at the expense of future stability. He supports SFI because its work is far reaching, with little regard for short-term applications.
"People on the basic research side work in sort of a selfless manner," he said. "It is encouraging to me to see young scientists with enthusiasm, even ardor, for what they do.";
Fiquet Hanna Duckworth - Art of medicine is 'four-level-chess' complex
As a practitioner of Oriental Medicine, Fiquet Hanna Duckworth uses an integrated approach to helping her patients resolve health issues, much in the same way that SFI uses a multidisciplinary approach to examine complex problems.
"Treating a patient is like playing four-level chess," she said. "To be a good doctor and a good healer you have to look beyond the direct cause of an illness and explore other factors."
Dr. Duckworth has recently stepped back her involvement in other charities to throw all of her support behind SFI. She believes that traditional, single-issue charities cannot address all sides of the complex issues facing our world today. SFI's involvement in developing and teaching new methods to solve complex problems will produce better solutions to move society forward, she says.
As a former Montessori teacher, Dr. Duckworth is keenly interested in SFI's educational outreach to the community. She believes young people have been uninspired by traditional methods of teaching science and are ill-prepared to have critical conversations about scientific topics such as pandemic disease and global warming.
"To get a healthy society you have to get back to education," she says. "To interest kids, it has to be about real science."
Michelle Gaugy - Achieving immortality through art, and science
Artists attempt to achieve a kind of permanence – even immortality – in delicate brush strokes on stretched canvas, or in wood, fresco, or marble. Art dealer Michelle Gaugy, owner of Gaugy Gallery in Santa Fe, is more pragmatic. She wants to leave her mark on the world through beauty and science. A self-described "science groupie," she deeply appreciates the patterns in art and life.
SFI Distinguished Fellow Murray Gell-Mann, Gaugy's good friend, once chided her, saying she cared nothing for pure science. "I don't care anything for science by itself, or art for that matter, or anything else by itself," she admits. "What I care about is how everything connects, one to the other, then how it connects to humanity as a whole. I believe nothing has significance in and of itself."
Over the 13 years Gaugy has lived in Santa Fe, her involvement in SFI has grown along with her passion for complexity science. She believes that while scientists can change the world with their insights, benefactors can likewise change the world by supporting that research. "I want to help progress and good in the world," she says. "That commitment is my small measure of immortality."
Gaugy has made sure her support will outlive her by making the Institute a significant heir in her estate. "SFI is doing work that is influencing the future of the world in groundbreaking ways," she says. "And it needs more supporters. It deserves more supporters. It doesn't even occur to people to put SFI in their estate plans – but it should."
Jerry Murdock - Modeling complex problems a 21st century imperative
Education in the 19th and 20th centuries was good at teaching people to approach a problem in a linear fashion. SFI Trustee Jerry Murdock believes the survival of our culture in the 21st century depends on teaching leaders and decision-makers to model complex problems.
He supports the Institute because SFI researchers have created tools that could help improve the environment, our economy, and the functioning of democracy -- if world leaders will learn to use them.
"Most of our leaders are not trained to conceptualize these problems, let alone solve them," he says. "SFI's transdisciplinary work is the model for how leaders and science can cross boundaries to solve the relevant and significant issues of our day."
"I have no interest in funding science in general," he says. "But I have tremendous interest in funding science that addresses the most pressing challenges we have in our society today."
He and SFI President Jerry Sabloff have formed a group to study archaeo-astronomy and seek to understand how early astronomical science can provide new insights into ancient civilizations. He is especially interested in the integration of astronomy within ancient Mayan culture.
Gerry Ohrstrom - Clarifying the paths to innovation and social prosperity
Philanthropist Gerry Ohrstrom believes the Institute is making the world a better place by using tools and perspectives from the natural sciences to understand social systems. But, he admits, self-interest is part of his philanthropic motivation.
"You can't make the world a better place if you don't make yourself a better person," he says. "A good way to start is by meeting creative and accomplished people who challenge and inspire your thinking. There's no better place for that than SFI."
SFI's Business Network meetings and scientific symposia, he says, are opportunities for donors and friends of the Institute to grow intellectually and connect with people who do the research.
An active follower of trends in science and social policy, Ohrstrom had been aware of SFI's research since the 1980s, but he became involved after a friend, SFI Trustee John Chisholm, formally introduced him in 2010.
He says he appreciates the way SFI brings together disciplines such as physics and biology to better understand the drivers of societal well-being. Ultimately, this greater understanding illuminates more specific concerns, such as poverty and disease, and clarifies the paths to innovation and prosperity, he says.
Ohrstrom is an investor in New York City with a background in private equity, investment banking, and manufacturing.
As an industrial researcher and vice president of the Carnegie Corporation, David Z. Robinson did not set out to change the process of scientific thought when he joined SFI's Board of Trustees in 1986. He had enjoyed a research career that was unfettered by the silos of mainstream academia, and he wanted to be involved in an institution where others could enjoy similar freedoms.
Yet he hesitated when friends (and SFI founders) Phil Anderson, Murray Gell-Mann, and David Pines approached him about joining the board. He felt that SFI including a graduate program focused on interdisciplinary research would not be good training for the students' future careers.
He agreed to serve as a trustee and stayed on until 2008, where he helped oversee the evolution of SFI's education program from one focused on graduate students to today's programs that nurture scholars of all ages interested the sciences of complexity, from middle schoolers to postdocs.
An enthusiastic learner, Robinson's own career varied widely, from chemical physics at Harvard, to optics and electronics research in private industry, to the White House Office of the President's Science Advisor, to Vice President for Academic Affairs at New York University, to Carnegie.
His transdisciplinary scientific interests are what drew himself to SFI, and why he remains involved as a donor. "SFI has had a transformational effect on the way science is done in society, and that's a rare thing," he says. "They were among the first to recognize the importance of computers in transdisciplinary research, and the possibilities of using computers to get a better understanding of complex adaptive systems. That's a transformational success in my view, and it deserves support."
Lou and Hank Schuyler - 'A place like SFI is sorely needed'
Lou and Hank Schuyler believe they could be the first couple to become dedicated SFI donors during a vacation. In 1994 the pair left New York City to spend several restful days in New Mexico. Both have backgrounds in science – she in information technology, he through branding and market research – so an announcement of an SFI community lecture one evening caught their attention. And they were hooked.
"This is a world of increasing specialization," says Lou, "with scientists studying the most minute details." Yet, both she and Hank appreciate how everything in the world is connected and interdependent. Hank says he has "always felt a place like SFI was sorely needed."
Six years ago, the two retired and moved to Albuquerque. They regularly attend lectures at SFI, Lou says, "to keep in touch with what's going on at the forefront of science."
Hank is pleased to have seen SFI grow and develop, citing such additions as the Business Network and a greater number of fellows. At the same time, he says, "SFI has remained true to itself…a brilliant, shining example of where innovation takes place."
Graham Spencer - Influencing a science revolution
Collaboration has been Graham Spencer's stock in trade, from creating Excite in 1993 with five friends from Stanford, to launching JotSpot with Excite co-founder Joe Kraus. He appreciates the spirit of transdisciplinary, collaborative research characteristic of SFI.
"I feel connected to the kind of science they do at SFI," Spencer says. "They're studying fundamental questions in a way that nobody else is doing it. People discover things they might not have, if they hadn't been exposed to that collaboration. I think the kinds of questions SFI is trying to answer are really foundational."
As an SFI Trustee, Spencer plays an important role in guiding the Institute and promoting its research in the business and technology community. He and his wife, Cristina, support SFI financially as well. They believe their contributions to SFI go far because of its influence of the way people across many disciplines approach problems – including in the physical sciences, social sciences, computer networks, and business.
The theoretical nature of SFI's research, however, makes it difficult for many donors to clearly see the impact of their philanthropy, and that holds some people back from giving, he says. "In my mind, that's what makes it more important," Spencer says. "SFI's work is underappreciated relative to its importance."