The Gruber Awards
Funding the ‘bright lights’ of science
People behind the science
Nine years after the Gruber Foundation began awarding the prestigious Peter and Patricia Gruber Award to a newly hired promising young scientist at the Weizmann Institute, Patricia Gruber says she is “proud” the award is doing what it set out to do.
“This award is a vehicle for identifying young superstars in science,” she says. “Through the funds offered by the prize, it helps bring their research to a new level.”
The three-year award means that there are three Gruber awardees at any given time. Recipients use the funds for research and travel, as well as to support postdoctoral fellows and PhD students in their labs.
In an interview from her home in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Patricia Gruber reflected on the origin of the foundation and the awards.
The foundation that bears their joint names was launched by her late husband. In 2000 they began to identify prize areas that would later define their philanthropy. Peter died in 2014 after a long and productive life. While he was still alive, the program and its endowment were passed on to Yale University. The values that characterize the prizes include three areas of science—genetics, neuroscience, and cosmology; as well as rule of law and women’s rights. The three international science prizes will continue to be awarded by the Gruber Foundation at Yale, and the human rights programs will be implemented at Yale Law School.
Peter developed a love for science and education over his lifetime. Born in Hungary to Jewish parents in 1929, he fled the country a decade later—three months before the start of World War II—with his family for India. During the brief Japanese bombing of Calcutta, his parents sent him to a Catholic boarding school in the Himalayas. “There, immersed in the spiritual traditions of India,” says Patricia, “he embarked on a lifelong quest to understand the meaning of life, and garnered enormous respect for all religions.” She adds, “Peter was a global thinker, an ethically committed person who was aware of the difficult lives of people in many parts of the world.” He studied Buddhism, and in his twenties founded the Oriental Studies Foundation, which sponsored the translation of Tibetan wisdom texts.
Peter and Patricia met in Berkeley, California, in the 1980s, and during their 26 years together embarked on a philanthropic journey that became rewarding for both. Peter was a successful asset manager who focused on emerging markets, and Patricia was a marriage and family counselor. The couple established the foundation in 1993, and moved from California to St. Thomas two years later.
In St. Thomas, the foundation funds local schools including the Peter Gruber International Academy, as well as local cultural and service organizations. The Grubers initiated the Weizmann Institute’s Gruber Awards to encourage the outstanding scientists at the Weizmann Institute. An annual Award is given to an Institute scientist every April in a teleconference broadcast between Rehovot and St. Thomas. The ceremony takes place in the presence of an audience including students of the Peter Gruber International Academy, the Antilles School, and others. It has inspired increased interest in science among those who attend.
This year’s winner, Dr. Yifat Merbl, who was a big hit with the student audience, said that she was honored to receive the award and is “grateful for the generous support of the Gruber Foundation… The award is a vote of confidence in my research at a time when I am establishing my lab—a very important moment in a scientist’s career.” Dr. Merbl studies the finetuning process of the body’s proteins.
“We like to invest in individuals—a person with an excellent brain and tremendous motivation,” says Patricia, adding that in recent years she and Peter wanted to bring focus to women scientists in particular. In establishing the Gruber Young Scientist Awards, she says, “We thought: ‘Let’s empower all those bright lights, including women,’ and in that way we are investing in the future of science. With the funds being so well-managed by the Institute, we hope the award will go on for a long time.”
Yifat Merbl is funded by Rising Tide Foundation. Dr. Merbl is the incumbent of the Leonard and Carol Berall Career Development Chair.
Peter and Patricia Gruber Award recipients
- Dr. Yifat Merbl, Department of Immunology, 2015
- Dr. Michal Rivlin, Department of Neurobiology, 2014
- Prof. Yardena Samuels, Department of Molecular Cell Biology, 2013
- Dr. Tali Kimchi, Department of Neurobiology, 2012
- Prof. Zohar Komargodski, Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, 2011
- Dr. David Margulies, Department of Organic Chemistry, 2010
- Prof. Gilad Perez, Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, 2009
- Prof. Avishay Gal-Yam, Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, 2008
- Prof. Elad Schneidman, Department of Neurobiology, 2007
Patricia Gruber and her late husband Peter