Upgrade. RPI students, like these in a biosimulation lab, should have access to considerably more computing power soon.

Mystery Donor Smiles on Rensselaer

No one knows how or when, but Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, must have made a big impression on someone. An anonymous donor, RPI announced 12 March, is handing over a staggering $360 million, no strings attached.

The princely sum is said to be the biggest donation in history to a U.S. university. The runner-up, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, is $350 million pledged last year to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge for brain research. The RPI donor has evidently not been deterred by a falling stock market. He (or she) pledged $130 million in December, then decided to almost triple the stake. The gift is half the size of the school's $700 million endowment.

"A gift of this magnitude, offered to the university fully unrestricted, is unprecedented," said RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson. A large part of the money will go for construction of two new facilities, one to focus on biotechnology and the other on electronic media and performing arts. In biotech, RPI plans to build research programs in tissue engineering, integrative systems biology, biocomputation and bioinformatics, and biocatalysis and metabolic engineering. Those new or expanded programs--including new faculty--should help RPI double the size of its graduate school, which currently handles 1800 students.

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