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Baltimore investor Bill Miller donates $50 million to Johns Hopkins University’s physics, astronomy department

Baltimore investor Bill Miller has committed $50 million to the Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in a donation university leaders said will propel the program to new heights.

Miller built his name on the back of three decades of success as a stock picker for Legg Mason before the 2007-08 financial crisis. He’s since made a comeback as founder and chairman of the Baltimore-based Miller Value Partners and has looked for ways to use his fortune.

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In 2018, he donated $75 million to Johns Hopkins’ Department of Philosophy. In November, he promised $50 million for the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit theoretical research institute in New Mexico.

His latest gift, Johns Hopkins University said in a news release, inspired two anonymous donors to commit a combined $25 million more to advance physics research.

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Miller said that he was “delighted” to enable the program to add new resources and to “continue to build on its distinguished history,” in a statement included in the university’s release.

“Physics seeks to understand reality at its most fundamental level,” Miller said. “It is the bedrock on which the other sciences rest.”

His gift will fund young scientists to the tune of 10 prize postdoctoral fellowships and 10 endowed graduate research fellowships; establish three endowed professorships and a group of senior and junior level “faculty lines”; and pay for research infrastructure such as laboratory equipment and instruments, according to the university.

Timothy Heckman, the physics and astronomy department chair, said in a statement that Miller’s gift would make Johns Hopkins a more appealing destination for students and scholars to learn.

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“Our faculty, in turn, will have the privilege of preparing the next generation of brilliant physicists,” Heckman said. “Such a financial venture will have an astounding impact on discovery that could potentially reveal new truths about some of the deep mysteries of the universe and how we live in it.”

The department Heckman heads highlights its expertise in the areas of astronomy, condense matter physics and particle physics, according to the university. Some of the theoretical and experimental faculty specialize in the likes of astrophysics, extragalactic astronomy and dark matter detection, among other areas.

Michael Turner, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, highlighted some of the Johns Hopkins’ faculty’s accomplishments in a statement included in the news release, saying the Hopkins scientists will be compelled to make more “really big discoveries” as beneficiaries of “the financial freedom to pursue edgy research. "

“Astronomy and physics faculty at Johns Hopkins have been making breakthroughs that reveal our place in the universe, from the discovery of dark energy to mapping the universe today and at 380,000 years after the beginning,” Turner said.

NASA chose Johns Hopkins as the site for the Space Telescope Science Institute in 1981, leading the physics department to add astronomy to its name, the university said. The department found a new home in 1991 by way of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, which features a rooftop observatory and the Morris W. Offit Telescope.

Now, the university said, the department will bear a new name: the William H. Miller III Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels said in a statement that the university was “endlessly grateful” for Miller’s contributions and that his latest donation would boost the storied physics program to new heights by expanding research into emerging subfields and attracting promising young scientists.

“A philanthropic investment of this magnitude will be a standard-bearer for how a robust physics and astronomy department can broaden its research, engage in collaborative exploration, and advance to the front lines of emerging areas,” Daniels said.

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