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MU Scientists Receive $5.5 Million Gift from Kimmel Foundation to Search for the Next Big Thing in Alternative Energy

Gift given by Sidney Kimmel Foundation, created by founder of The Jones Group

Feb. 10, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Christian Basi, BasiC@missouri.edu, 573-882-4430

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Sustainable practices and the search for safe, environmentally friendly energy has been a priority of scientists for years. With some success, researchers across the globe are continuing the hunt for an energy source that is clean and abundant. Now, scientists at the University of Missouri are the recipients of a five-year, $5.5 million gift from the Sidney Kimmel Foundation that will help focus efforts in fundamental, physical sciences in the search for new alternative energy sources.

“We don’t know what the next big thing is because it probably hasn’t been invented yet,” said Rob Duncan, vice chancellor for research at MU. “This gift to MU’s scientists will give us the opportunity to explore new and empirical phenomena in the physical sciences, which may ultimately be transformative and could lead to a new form of alternative energy. Tomorrow’s solutions depend on scientific discoveries that are being made now, and hence, on innovations that have not yet occurred.”

The Sidney Kimmel Foundation is donating the large gift, believed to be one of the largest to study energy alternatives. The Foundation was created by Sidney Kimmel, the founder and chairman of The Jones Group, a leading designer and marketer of branded apparel and footwear. The Jones Group includes brands such as Jones New York, Anne Klein, Nine West, Gloria Vanderbilt, Bandolino and Rachel Roy. The company recently acquired footwear brands Stuart Weitzman and Kurt Geiger. Since 1993, the Sidney Kimmel Foundation and its subsidiary, the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research, have committed more than $750 million to philanthropic causes, including $550 million to cancer research. According to Business Week, Kimmel is one of four billionaires in the United States who have given over half their wealth to philanthropy.

The donation to MU will be used to create the Sidney Kimmel Institute for Nuclear Renaissance (SKINR), which will encourage collaboration from scientists in several disciplines, including physics, the MU Research Reactor (MURR), engineering, material science and chemistry. Seven major research groups within these disciplines will participate in this comprehensive scientific effort. These scientists will be studying the fundamental physics of certain energy producing reactions of an unknown origin in their quest for alternative forms of energy.

“Very much like my commitments to cancer research, I believe in investing for America’s future generations,” Kimmel said. “I chose the University of Missouri for this important gift because it is a comprehensive university, experienced in using its deep scientific research capacity  across many fields with its firm commitment to serve the public good. This may be futuristic, but when it comes to energy, our future is now.”

In previous studies, scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory; ENEA, which is the National Energy Laboratory of Italy; and other scientific teams around the globe have reported observing excess heat effects when hydrogen or deuterium has interacted with palladium, nickel or platinum under certain extreme conditions. However, the researchers do not know how the excess heat is being created, nor can they duplicate the same, exact results on a consistent basis in some of these systems.

“This phenomenon – excess heat being observed during the interaction of these elements – is intriguing, but we don’t understand where it is coming from,” said David Robertson, professor of chemistry and associate director of research at MURR.  “The success rate is about 20 percent, so we know the conditions must be very specific. It’s a hit-or-miss reaction, which is the reason why we’re trying to understand it, and we’re using every tool in the toolbox to find the answer. This gift to Mizzou will help us enhance our resources to find the answers to this phenomenon and potentially uncover the secrets of a new, clean alternative form of energy.”

Robertson says the potential uses for this excess heat energy will depend on how much energy is extracted and how consistent the process is for generating the energy.

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