Building Basic Science

  • Prosperity
  • 2002

Texan George Mitchell spent his work days peering downward, deep into the earth, where he was one of the most successful men of his generation at finding valuable oil and gas, especially by the method of hydraulic fracturing that he largely invented. As a philanthropist, though, he often gazed at the heavens, where he loved to support astronomy and other basic sciences. Mitchell had considered becoming a physicist before majoring in petroleum engineering, and by the time he passed away in 2013 he had donated an estimated $360 million to major scientific efforts—like construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope (see 2003 item), and his 2002 creation of a “fundamental physics and astronomy” program at Texas A&M University. The $100 million he gave to A&M also endowed 13 academic chairs—several in physics, others in astronomy, three in marine sciences. He built the campus physics building and other structures, and endowed fellowships, lectures, and meetings related to astronomy and physics. Mitchell’s giving during the last decade of his life has been described as one of the greatest philanthropic campaigns in support of basic science ever.