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Art by Jean-Pierre Hébert, Vortex Boogie-woogie

A Visionary Return on Investment

Carl Feinberg establishes a chair in theoretical physics

It’s difficult to find a New Yorker more passionate about the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics (KITP) than Carl Feinberg. The Founder and CEO of Relational Architects International (a computer software firm based in New Jersey) recently committed $1.45 million to establish the Carl P. Feinberg Chair in Theoretical Physics. The Feinberg Chair will support a senior faculty member who demonstrates brilliance, creativity, and productivity.

“The KITP attracts the best and the brightest,” says Feinberg, “whose record of achievement is significant. One of my hopes, with respect to both the Chair and KITP in general, is that the work done here will gain insights into the fundamental nature of reality.”

Feinberg’s love of physics started early in childhood — and even though he pursued a career in software programming, the world of physics was never far away.

“Physics is an intrinsic part of my DNA,” says Feinberg. “When I was a little kid, I could do anything I wanted on my birthday and I opted to go to the Hayden Planetarium. I wanted to be an astronomer then and I still find it fascinating.”

Feinberg stayed close to the physics community throughout the years. “Kindred spirits” clustered in spaces where exciting breakthroughs were happening — namely, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (IAS) and the KITP.

Carl Feinberg and KITP Students
Carl Feinberg and KITP Postdoctoral Scholars

“I regard IAS and KITP as very special places that play a vital role in the physics community,” says Feinberg, who also endowed a Professorship of Theoretical Physics in the School of Natural Sciences at the IAS. “They’re both unique and I feel the two institutions complement and supplement each other.”

One of KITP’s strengths is its “rapid response” capability. When the 2017 black hole collisions were observed, for example, the KITP quickly organized a program. Physicists and astronomers from around the world convened at the KITP to discuss the astrophysics of the merger.

“The impact of the KITP in relation to its budget and headcount is unrivaled and simply phenomenal,” says Feinberg. “When those I support thank me, I say ‘You’re most welcome. Just do something extraordinary,’” he adds with hyperbolic humor.

The Feinberg Chair will support a new permanent faculty member of the Institute, matching the likes of Lars Bildsten, who holds the Frederick W. Gluck Chair in Theoretical Physics, David Gross who holds the Chancellor’s Chair in Theoretical Physics, Boris Shraiman who holds the Susan F. Gurley Chair in Theoretical Physics and Biology, and Leon Balents who holds the Pat and Joe Yzurdiaga Chair in Theoretical Physics.

Feinberg’s investment is an indicator of KITP giving trends — namely, that donors are investing for long-term impact. Feinberg sees his Chair as an investment in civilization that will add to humanity’s collective knowledge.

“Civilization is a team sport,” says Feinberg. “We’re all in it together.”