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Charles T. Munger Physics Residence.

The Quandaries of Nature

Together, Glen and Clark Mitchel ’78, MFA ’81 help scientists imagine the unseen

Without hesitation, Glen Mitchel can tell you that there are exactly 22 chalkboards in KITP’s Charles T. Munger Physics Residence. Glen enjoys the image of physicists from around the world housed comfortably on campus with their families and plenty of chalk as opposed to scattered around town in sublets as before. The residence exists in its current form in part through Glen’s leadership, recognized by a sculpture his son donated to KITP in his honor.

In 2012, Glen made a connection that accelerated KITP Director Lars Bildsten’s vision for a space that embraced visiting physicists. A regular participant in institute events and public talks, Glen first heard about the housing project from Lars in summer 2012 and shared it with philanthropist Charlie Munger, a good friend of 60 years. Charlie was sold. Glen helped oversee the project and was often spotted on-site for surprise inspections during construction.

Glen Mitchel and Lars Bildsten.
Lars Bildsten and Glen Mitchel

“KITP has a mission to solve some of the quandaries of nature which have yet to be answered,” said Glen. “And it attracts leading scientists from around the globe who are enthusiastically anxious to get to UC Santa Barbara to work together on resolving these unanswered questions.”

Once here, scientists find the Munger Physics Residence an inspiring place to seek answers to questions such as the age of the universe. The Hubble Constant is the unit of measurement that describes the expansion of the universe. Its currently contested value is a subject of intense observational scrutiny and possible profound theoretical significance.

“Problems like the Hubble Constant conundrum have got to be solved, and KITP is the only forum capable of a conclusion,” said Glen. “KITP is among the world’s finest centers for symposia and it tackles the most challenging problems in physics.”

In 1979, the same year that what was then the ITP began, Glen’s son Clark also found himself intrigued by unknown variables. As a student in UC Santa Barbara’s MFA program for studio art, Clark encountered an artist’s rendering of astronomical formulations. Clark wondered at the creative intelligence required to develop these ideas based on math and speculation. He reinterpreted the image by casting it in bronze and called it “Expanding Sphere.”

Clark Mitchel and Lars Bildsten with Expanding Sphere.
Clark Mitchel ’78, MFA ’81 and Lars Bildsten with Expanding Sphere.

“Those images advanced our knowledge of what’s out there in the universe,” Clark said of the drawing that inspired him. “Now, we’re getting pictures of black holes, but back in the 1970s they said we’d never see one.”

Art was a way to imagine what was out there. When he saw Glen’s dedication to building a home for scientists, Clark felt moved to donate the sculpture to KITP in honor of his father. “Expanding Sphere” now greets visitors in the Mitchel Foyer, which was recently named in honor of Glen’s leadership support of KITP and essential role in helping to create the Munger Physics Residence.

“I’m looking at KITP to be a permanent part of the world,” said Glen, a dedicated supporter for over ten years. “Discoveries here help the entire scientific community. In order to do that, you’ve got to have an adequate endowment that ensures its continuity.”