A billionaire corporate executive at Berkshire Hathaway has donated $65 million of the company’s stock to UC Santa Barbara, making it the largest gift in the university’s history.

Charles Munger, vice chairman at Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway, made the donation to the university by gifting Class A shares in the company led by Warren Buffett.

The money will be used to fund a housing facility for physicists in a project that should be complete in two years.

The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, or KITP, will run the building, which will be a three-story residence for visiting scientists and preeminent physicists from around the world who participate in KITP programs each year.  

The building’s design will feature a variety of common areas meant to foster informal gatherings and scientific collaboration.

“There is no place like KITP anywhere else — and no better programs — so it’s a great thing to be able to give them a nice home of their own,” Munger said in a statement issued Thursday night, adding that the building will foster interdisciplinary conversations about physics.

Construction of the KITP Residence by The Towbes Group Inc. is expected to commence this October, and should be complete in two years, the statement said.

The project will be built near the San Clemente Villages graduate-student apartments on El Colegio Road.

Munger came to the project, and to KITP, by way of close friend Glen Mitchel, who lives in Santa Barbara and is a regular visitor to institute events and public talks.

Mitchel first heard about the housing project from KITP Director Lars Bildsten, and shared it with Munger during a fishing trip, the statement said.

Munger’s grandson, Charles, is also a UCSB alumnus.

“This residence is going to be hugely helpful to UCSB. This building will be about as good as it can get, and offer as good an experience as a physicist can have — and I don’t think you could have a better place on earth to do it,” Munger said.

Up until Munger’s contribution, the 2012 donation of $50 million by UCSB alumnus and Oracle chairman Jeff Henley was the largest single gift in the school’s history. That donation was earmarked for the fields of science and engineering at the university.

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang said that KITP has been hosting thousands of the world’s top scientists since 1979. 

“We are absolutely thrilled and honored that through Charlie’s vision, unbelievable generosity, his love of physics, and his unique architectural and engineering genius and passion, we have been gifted such an unimaginable guesthouse for the visitors of KITP to enjoy and to enable them to continue their groundbreaking research at the endless frontier of physics,” Yang said.

KITP Director Lars Bildsten called the donation a “game-changer” for the institute.

“KITP’s mission is to bring together the world’s leading scientists to collaborate on the most challenging and exciting questions in theoretical physics and related fields,” he said. 

“Charlie’s commitment to this mission is profound. Our visitors now spend their day in Kohn Hall, the center of interactions, but once the Residence is complete they will continue those interactions into the nights and weekends. I’m confident we will see an increased number of collaborations and scientific progress.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.