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UCSB Fills Up Newly Opened Housing Project with Visiting Physics Scholars

The $65 million, 61-bed center opened Jan. 1 on El Colegio Road and is already filled to capacity

The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics visiting scholars residence features a variety of casual recreation and meeting spaces intended to make the residence the go-to evening and weekend place for both visiting and regular institute folks. Click to view larger
The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics visiting scholars residence features a variety of casual recreation and meeting spaces intended to make the residence the go-to evening and weekend place for both visiting and regular institute folks.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

A little over two years after a billionaire Berkshire Hathaway executive donated $65 million of the company's stock to UC Santa Barbara, the fruit of the largest gift in the university's history is open for business.

The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics’ three-story visiting scholars residence at 6560 El Colegio Road is a temporary home to physics researchers from around the world who attend the National Science Foundation-funded institute’s annual programs.

Charles Munger, a physics fan whose grandson attended UCSB, bestowed his gift in the fall of 2014. The KITP residence opened Jan. 1.

“The visitors love it,” said KITP director and UCSB physics professor Lars Bildsten.

KITP has an application and invitation process that now includes the housing option for scholars looking to attend the institute’s 30- to 40-person programs, which address emerging topics in theoretical physics, like the last year’s discovery of gravitational waves.

James Brill, KITP’s residence manager, said the new Spanish colonial-style building next to student apartments is already at 100-percent capacity.

The average stay is three to six weeks, though some visitors, who are encouraged to bring their families, will stay anywhere from one week to six months.

Before the housing project, visitors turned to a range of accommodations while calling Santa Barbara their temporary home, including on-campus housing, hotels and houses in the nearby communities.

The disparate housing situations typically restrict scientists’ collaboration to normal working hours, Brill said.

UCSB’s 61-bed housing development on El Colegio Road hosts visiting physics scholars from around the world. Click to view larger
UCSB’s 61-bed housing development on El Colegio Road hosts visiting physics scholars from around the world. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

“A lot of great science happens when you’re not in a formal setting,” he said.

The residence’s 18 one-bedroom units with their own private bathroom, kitchen and living room are for single visitors. Another 11 two-bedroom units accommodate either the many scholars who do bring their families or two separate scholars living together like their undergraduate students.

There are an additional three units with a whole seven bedrooms each, where visitors have their own private bathrooms, but share one large kitchen, living room, dining room and meeting room with their fellow researchers.

Bildsten has said that the shared living spaces and variety of casual recreation and meeting areas allow for more continuous collaboration between the physicists, and makes the residence the go-to evening and weekend place for both visiting and regular institute folks.

The Towbes Group, which built the $65-million residence with considerable input from Munger, said it’s “among the most complex and impressive projects the company has ever completed.”

“Mr. Munger’s requirement was that the building be a 100-year building,” said Derek Hansen, Towbes’ vice president of construction.

That meant constructing it so that it could withstand a 7.0 earthquake “without blinking an eye.”

Its durability and amenities, Hansen told Noozhawk, made the “technically challenging” residence “a hybrid between a hospital and a Biltmore.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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