Moore's Law now applies to philanthropy as well as computing power. Last week computer industry titan Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty, announced that they are creating a $5-billion-plus foundation to support scientific research, conservation, and higher education. Once fully funded within a few years, the foundation is expected to rank among the dozen largest charities based in the United States.
Computer engineer Moore, the 70-year-old co-founder of processing-chip giant Intel Corp., is widely known for his observation that innovations were doubling computer processing power every 18 to 24 months. Moore's Law became a buzzword in the booming computer industry and helped to boost Moore's net worth to nearly $15 billion, mostly in Intel shares.
Now, the Moores want to share their new-economy wealth with researchers, university educators, and environmentalists. "Gordon is fairly passionate about looking for higher risk [research] projects that would not normally be funded by the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health," says Lewis Coleman, who will become president of the San Francisco, California-based foundation early next year. He is currently chair of Banc of America Investment Services Inc.
The charity's agenda will be shaped over the next year as Coleman hires dozens of staff members, recruits board members, and picks the brains of advisers. "We've just started to seek advice from the scientific community," he says. But basic and applied environmental studies and the physical sciences are among the "underserved" areas likely to benefit. Science "that would have an impact on protecting the environment [will be] an important, but not exclusive," focus of the foundation, he adds.
The Moores have already made an international mark in science philanthropy. They have given millions to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, $35 million for biodiversity protection to Conservation International, and $17 million to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom for a state-of-the-art physical sciences library and have built laboratories at Stanford University and the University of California (UC), Berkeley. Moore has also supported SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and a UC field research station on Moorea, a Pacific island next to Tahiti.
"Gordon Moore has impeccable taste and judgment when it comes to donating money--he could set the pace for other funders in a number of areas," says one former university administrator who has worked on securing gifts from the executive. "But it may be harder than he expects to find the niches where the foundation can make a clear-cut difference."
Still, Coleman is confident that the new Moore Foundation will have an impact. "We are open to joint ventures," he says, "and intrigued by [their] ability to bulk up and have influence on specific issues."