Paul, Millie Berg give $4 million to medical school
BY RUTHANN RICHTER
Biochemist Paul Berg, PhD, and his wife, Millie, will contribute to the renewal of the School of Medicine with a $4 million gift to help build the Learning and Knowledge Center, the focal point for the school's future educational activities, Dean Philip Pizzo, MD, announced April 23. The gift is one of the largest to the university from a current faculty member.
Berg, who came to Stanford nearly 50 years ago, said the collaborative climate here made it possible to do the innovative work in recombinant DNA that earned him the Nobel Prize in 1980. He believes the Learning and Knowledge Center can create an equally nurturing environment for the next generation of young physician-scientists who come through its doors.
"This is a project I believe in strongly because it will pave the way for a rebirth and new excitement in the training of medical students and medical scientists," said Berg, the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor of Cancer Research, emeritus.
The new four-story building will rise on the site of Fairchild Auditorium and provide state-of-the-art facilities, including a new Center for Immersive and Simulation-based Learning that will be unmatched in the country.
His co-chair, Stanford alumna Akiko Yamazaki, and her husband, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, recently announced they would contribute $5 million to the building. The estimated cost of the new center is $90.2 million, and school officials hope to have it open in late 2009.
Pizzo said he was "deeply touched by Millie and Paul's gift on so many different levels. Thanks to their generosity, we are now one step closer to bringing the LKC to fruition," he said. "But this gift also represents an affirmation by two wonderful members of our Stanford community of the value they place in our vision for the future—which the LKC will symbolize and embrace."
Berg, 80, arrived at Stanford in 1959 with a small cadre of brilliant young biochemists and settled into the new Alway Building, which stands now much as it did then. He and his colleagues, including fellow Nobelist Arthur Kornberg, PhD, the Emma Pfeiffer Merner Professor of Biochemistry, emeritus, began to build the basic science program for which the school is renowned today. "I've seen the evolution of the Stanford Medical Center from its inception. I believe I played a significant role in the first phase of that enterprise, and now it's time for renewal," Berg said.
Early in his career, Berg developed a reputation for his pioneering work in recombinant DNA. That work convinced him that the future of medical science would have to rely on a deeper understanding of molecules and genes, so in the early 1980s he began a campaign to build the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine. He succeeded in raising more than $50 million for the new facility, which opened in 1989.
Berg became the first director of the center, stepping down from the post when he became an emeritus professor in 2000. Most days he can still be found in his basement office in the Beckman Center, writing books, lobbying for stem cell research and, most recently, helping chart the medical school's future.
Berg said he views the Learning and Knowledge Center as the start of a new era for the school, which intends to rejuvenate its campus with plans for several new research, clinical and educational facilities. The LKC is expected to offer unprecedented opportunities for students and members of the school community to learn and interact with one another and with colleagues across the campus.
"I believe we are special among medical schools in how we train our students," Berg said. "We aim to develop outstanding physicians, but we also expect that they will be first and foremost medical scientists—some, hopefully, being among the next generation of discoverers. The mindset achieved by doing investigation is important, and I think this facility is going to help us to prepare students for that role better than we were able to do it before."
Two of the large lecture halls in the new building will be named in honor of the Bergs. "I enjoy teaching," Berg said. "As my son says, I'm a ham actor. Being an actor himself, he once noted that what he and I do is not that much different. It's essentially communication. To me, teaching is the means by which we impart knowledge and more importantly our values to the next generation."
Berg said he hoped his financial commitment to the new center will encourage others, particularly faculty, to follow in his path in whatever ways they can manage.
"This is our home," he said. "This is where many of us have spent most of our waking hours and now we have an opportunity to make it even better. We should be aiming to make our teaching programs match the amazing science for which we are so widely admired. By contributing to this expansion and development, Stanford's medical school is taking the lead as it has so often in the past."