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Entrepreneur Jim Clark to donate $150 million to Stanford to fund biomedical engineering initiative

Jim Clark, the entrepreneur who founded Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon and myCFO, will donate $150 million to Stanford University to jump-start a bold cross-disciplinary initiative in biomedical engineering and sciences, President Gerhard Casper announced Tuesday.

The contribution, the largest single gift in Stanford's history since the founding grant and among the largest ever in higher education, will be instrumental in building the James H. Clark Center for Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. It also will provide equipment for the facility, endow positions for faculty who will participate in the new effort and fund graduate student fellowships.

Clark said he felt indebted to the university because, as a Stanford professor in the early 1980s, he was allowed to develop technologies that later brought him success in the private arena. He initiated discussions with university officials about a gift in October 1996.

"I chose to do this because of my academic roots, and Stanford is a great place to do it. For me it's important to know that a gift is going to get the best leverage it possibly can," he said.

"If you're allowed to be in an academic setting and create the springboard of a business effectively without undue impediments, then you have an obligation to respond in kind," he said.

Casper said: "As a former Stanford professor, Jim understands how well our university is positioned for this task. As an entrepreneur, he understands Stanford's capacity to marshal the resources it takes to stay at the forefront. I am sure that the magnitude and purpose of his philanthropy represent Jim's belief that this investment in research will greatly benefit the people of the United States and the world. We are both grateful and proud that he has so profoundly expressed this faith in Stanford University."

The Bio-X approach

The Program in Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, known informally on campus as "Bio-X," initially developed in a grassroots way among faculty across disciplines to integrate basic and applied sciences to develop new therapies and cures for human disease. Over the last 18 months, the concept has been formalized.

"This whole notion of biology becoming this foundational science for lots of different disciplines is something that we can build on in a unique way," said John Hennessy, university provost and former dean of the School of Engineering. Hennessy and Clark have known each other for 20 years, since the two were colleagues in the Department of Electrical Engineering.

"Recent discoveries in genetics and cellular biology, coupled with strides in computing and miniaturization of devices, will provide incredible opportunities for advances in biomedicine, bioengineering and bioscience," Hennessy said. "The breakthroughs will be at the intersection of biology and other science and engineering fields. Stanford has world-class programs in all of these areas, and interdisciplinary work is already under way. The program will be facilitated by having world-class engineering, medicine and the science departments on one campus, just across the street from one another," he said.

"Jim's gift to this building and program will give our efforts a dramatic boost that will ensure Stanford's preeminence in the field," Hennessy added.

Jim Spudich, a biochemistry professor and among the faculty leading the new effort, said that "for someone to recognize the value of this so early in our game plan is just marvelous, because it means we can really get on with the business of making this happen."


Stanford has a rich history of spawning entrepreneurship, beginning with Hewlett-Packard, and later Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Yahoo and countless other startups.

Lucy Shapiro, a professor of developmental biology and one of the faculty members leading Bio-X, said the contribution "speaks to the vision of the donor. Jim Clark is one of the visionaries who have come out of Stanford. He recognized that there is a paradigm shift in the sciences that is going to have very far-reaching implications."

Clark said he is particularly interested in the future of neuroinformatics, but felt it important to contribute to a broader effort "that has as its point of focus biology and its interaction with the rest of the world, rather than biology standing by itself."

Clark recalled that, while a Stanford professor, he was allowed to develop a computer chip called the geometry engine that became the basis for his first venture, Silicon Graphics.

He said crossing traditional barriers, academic and otherwise, has contributed greatly to his own success. Clark's own academic career shifted from engineering to physics to computer science. "Every major change that occurred to me in moving to a new plateau of accomplishment whether in academia or in business happened when I made changes. I think you need to mix disciplines to create an environment that brings about innovations and advances."

The Clark Center

The Clark Center will be a 225,000-square-foot facility that will house approximately 400 scientists and technicians. The site identified for the building, southeast of Fairchild Center, will link Stanford's new Science and Engineering Quad with its Medical Center. Ground-breaking is expected in June 2000 and completion by summer 2002 for the facility, which is covered under the university's current General Use Permit.

The 400 scientists and technicians who will be based in the Clark Center include 50 faculty who conduct research in the areas of biomedical engineering, biocomputing, neuroscience and imaging at the molecular, cellular and system level. Approximately 30 percent of the faculty will be new to Stanford.

The building will include laboratories, classrooms, an auditorium and cafeteria, and a core equipment facility that will include electron scanning microscopes, liquid chromatographs, MRI capability and massively parallel computers.

The advanced teaching facilities also will include a "reality center" with flat panel displays on the ceiling, floor and walls that allow projection of images enabling a visitor to see the inside of a physical structure such as a cell or artery.

But the building will be only the nucleus of a much larger series of coordinated research efforts across campus. More than 200 additional faculty from all parts of medicine, engineering and natural sciences at Stanford will be associated with the center's research and teaching activities. These departments are located within a 5-minute walk of the center.

"An intellectual collision is going to occur in next few years that will completely redefine how we approach science and technology in the next millennium," said Channing Robertson, a professor of chemical engineering who is among faculty leading the new effort.

Hennessy noted that the idea underlying this center is "one that several American universities are exploring, but few have the comprehensive expertise and resources to establish a program of such scope. Stanford has the intellectual depth and the necessary broad-based technological strength represented by its own laboratories and by its strong relationships with industry."

Stanford's computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and psychology departments are ranked number one by the National Research Council. Its medical school and basic sciences programs are ranked among the top 10 in the nation. And its faculty includes 15 living Nobel laureates, 19 recipients of the National Medal of Science, 118 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 75 members of the National Academy of Engineering. Nobel Laureate Steve Chu, professor of physics and applied physics, is among faculty members leading the new program.


By James Robinson

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