Tag Archives: philanthropy for science

A DYNAMIC BENEFACTOR, YURI MILNER, IS A VERY STRONG MOVER AND SHAKER IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

Quotes from Yuri Milner in 2016 (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Quotes from Yuri Milner in 2016!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Yuri Milner can be called “The Breakthrough Man”!  He is a very active individual dividing his time into 80% for business and finances, and 20% for science projects.  Most recently Milner donated $100 million to sponsor a dramatic large new research project aiming to take close-up images and data from planets circling another star (see “Can Research Travel Out to the Stars?  Yuri Milner says “Yes, Let’s Go!”).  Today’s  article presents Milner’s personal background, gives his many activities in the Breakthrough Group, and, discusses the important role Yuri Milner and other billionaire philanthropists have for making a big difference in modern science.

Some background about Yuri Milner!  [1]

Yuri Milner was born in Russia and now is 54 years old.  After early schooling in Russia, he went on to study theoretical physics at Moscow State University  and graduated in 1985; after working as a doctoral candidate in particle physics, he decided that he was “disappointed in myself as a physicist” [1].  In 1990, he enrolled in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and graduated with a MBA degree.  Returning to Russia, he was active in banking, international investing, and internet businesses; he founded Digital Sky Technologies (DST) in 2005.  Successful early investments in internet companies led to his immense personal fortune.

Today, Yuri Milner is the CEO of DST Global, an international company headquartered in Russia. This entrepreneur is married, has 2 children, and resides both in Russia and California.  He has received dozens of awards and is widely recognized for his several major philanthropic contributions to science [1].  Milner’s personality features being very determined, dynamic, and focused.  He always is a leader, but also works well with others.  He delights in innovation and is not afraid to follow his ideas or to take chances. As an enthusiastic patron of science, he still utilizes his previous training in physics.

To see Yuri Milner in action as “The Breakthrough Man”, you can watch 2 internet videos.  The first is an interview session conducted by a hostile questioner, which Milner handles nicely (see:  “This Billionaire Wants to Build Spaceships to Look for Earth-like Planets” ).  A longer video shows Milner recently announcing the latest Breakthrough project (see:  “LIVE: Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner to announce space exploration Starshot” ).  Thirdly, an excellent new interview lets Milner explain his interests in space science, but this is published only in written form (see:  “Shooting for the Stars” ).

Activities of the Breakthrough Group! 

In 2012, Yuri Milner joined with several other billionaires to found the Breakthrough Prizes for significant accomplishments in science and research.  These award several million dollars to each winner, thereby exceeding the Nobel Prizes; some of their features are designed to fill several well-known policy gaps in operation of the Nobel Prize.  The annual awards ceremony for the Breakthrough Prizes includes a large gala celebration of science with full internet coverage for public viewing (see recent short video: “2016 Breakthrough Prize highlights” ).

Several other projects supported by Milner’s large philanthropies are parts of the Breakthrough Initiatives (see: “Breakthrough Initiatives” ).  Breakthrough Listen is an intense research study looking much more widely for signal emissions indicating the existence of intelligent life on planets of other stars (see: “The hunt for extraterrestrial life just got a groundbreaking $100 million investment” ).  Breakthrough Message is a competition aimed to identify a good digital depiction of Earth and humanity that is suitable for reception elsewhere in the universe (see: “Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking announce $100 million Breakthrough Initiative to Dramatically Accelerate Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe” ).   Breakthrough Junior Challenge is an annual public competition for young researchers (see:  “Breakthrough Junior Challenge” ).  The latest Breakthrough Initiative is Breakthrough Starshot, a dramatic attempt to propel ultraminiature space probes out to our nearest star, Alpha Centauri, to see if its planets show signs of life (see: “Can research travel out to the stars?  Yuri Milner says “Yes, let’s go!” ); he is working on this with the cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, engineers, and other scientists.

Without the notable financial sponsorship by Milner and his philanthropic colleagues, none of these initiatives and activities for scientific research would be possible in today’s world.

How is the Major Philanthropy by Yuri Milner and Other Billionaires Especially Significant for Science and Research? 

The answer is that this philanthropy avoids the many restrictions and mistakes made by the standard system for supporting scientific research (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” , and, “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).  The end results of such philanthropy are that: (1) some important projects which would never get funded by research grants or by industries now will get conducted, (2) the door is opened for more freedom, creativity, and new ideas in science (i.e., they will be much less disfavored as subjects for research studies (e.g., basic science) or restricted by bureaucratic and commercial involvements (e.g., low-profit pharmaceuticals), and, (3) the usual detructive fighting for research grant awards or patents is bypassed.  A significant secondary result is that the general public will become much more familiar with the importance of science for their daily life, instead of being totally estranged from research and scientists.

Several other billionaires besides Yuri Milner have made giant donations to push new efforts and new directions in scientific research.  I already have highlighted the wonderful philanthropy supporting innovative research projects and new research sites by James E. Stowers (see:  “A Jackpot for Scientific Research is Created by James E. and Virginia Stowers!  Part I.” ), and, by Paul G. Allen (see:  “A Dramatic Individualist, Paul G. Allen, is a Major Benefactor of Scientific Research!” ).  It is interesting to note that all these individuals share certain characteristics (e.g., personal fascination with research, willingness to take chances instead of only seeking some guaranteed results, seeing their own life as an extensive exploration, enthusiasm for innovation and new ideas, working with organized teams of scientists and engineers, and, never taking ‘no’ for an answer!).  I have no doubt that all 3 clearly understand exactly what is right and wrong in modern scientific research.

Concluding remarks! 

Yuri Milner and other major philanthropists are making revolutionary new scientific research studies possible.  He and other large philanthropists see the beauty and value of research, and should be applauded by all people!

 

[1]  Wikipedia, 2016.  (Biography of) Yuri Milner.  Available on the internet at:  https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Milner .

 

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GETTING RID OF RESEARCH GRANTS: HOW PAUL G. ALLEN IS DOING IT! 

 

Quotations about scientific research from PAUL G. ALLEN! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Quotations about scientific research from PAUL G. ALLEN, who knows what needs to be changed! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The co-founder of Microsoft (1975), Paul G. Allen, has just made a large donation to start a dramatic new research program in biomedical science, the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group.  My recent dispatch about this dynamic man briefly summarized his life interests, global activities, and accomplishments with supporting science and research (see: “A Dramatic Individualist, Paul G. Allen, is a Major Benefactor of Scientific Research!”).  The present article presents how Allen’s newest philanthropy for science is organized, explains what he is aiming for, and applauds his insight into what is wrong in science at modern universities.

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group [1-3]! 

The new Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group has 2 mechanisms for sponsoring research.  The Allen Discovery Centers provide $30 million to support productive research groups where ground-breaking investigations going into the future of science are underway.  The first 2 awards will go to Tufts University (Boston) for fundamental investigations on the genesis of organ and tissue structures, and to Stanford University (Palo Alto) for systems-level computational modeling of immune cell interactions with bacteria.  This portion of the Frontiers Group will fund up to 10 Discovery Centers.

The new Allen Distinguished Investigators are professional scientists working at various institutions around the world, and  can be either junior or senior researchers showing the potential to dramatically reinvent entire areas of science.  The awards of 1-1.5 million dollars for up to 25 selected scientists enable each to initiate unrestricted new directions for research in their respective fields.  The Distinguished Investigators receive 10 years of support, thereby encouraging studies of very large previously unapproachable research questions.  The freedom provided allows the Distinguished Investigators to study unusual subjects and use unconventional approaches.  These possibilities are particularly needed for breakthrough studies into the complexities of biomedical science.  Initial selection of 4 research scientists has just been announced; for details about their investigations, see “Video: Launch press conference: The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group” .

What will be the influence of the Allen Frontiers Group on science [1-3]? 

The Allen Frontiers Group is revolutionary because it has several very distinctive features.  (1) The new awardees all are located outside the several large research institutes founded by Paul Allen in Seattle; thus, the influence of his philosophy for high quality science now will spread more widely.  (2) Awards in the Allen Frontiers Group all supersede the traditional approaches used to support science with research grants; the awardees can jump over the usual step-by-step progress made by individual scientists via using new and unconventional ideas for research that are too risky to be funded by research grants.  (3) The large amount of time university faculty scientists now need to waste dealing with research grants (see “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” ) will become available for actual experimental work in their laboratory; federal grants will not be needed by the Distinguished Investigators.  (4) The awardees have a very unusual amount of unrestricted freedom for creativity and innovation; this encourages making advances in knowledge for topics and questions that are complex, difficult, and important.

The changed atmosphere provided by these factors should act to return university scientists toward finding important new knowledge through basic research, instead of chasing money from research grants.  Thus, research by investigators in the Allen Frontiers Group will have a large impact by greatly advancing their fields in bioscience.  Paul Allen is liberating faculty scientists to do better science, to investigate very difficult research questions, and, to once again have fun with their work (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job?  Part II” )!

Paul Allen must perceive exactly what is wrong with today’s university research! 

The classical belief that research scientists should be creative, inventive, fearless, and unhindered is increasingly not evident in modern universities.  The current research grant system is destructive and hinders bringing new ideas into basic research.  Freedom is missing to take chances on making research breakthroughs by using unconventional experiments.   Novel ideas must be repressed due to worries about not getting a grant renewed.  These widespread restrictions unfortunately limit research progress for all faculty scientists at universities, medical schools, and research institutes.  The improved working atmosphere in Allen’s design for research includes the freedom to think new thoughts and go against the flow, collaborate with teamwork instead of unbridled competition, and, develop unforeseen new concepts .

Other philanthropists also act to free faculty scientists from bad problems with the research grant system! 

I recently highlighted another remarkable philanthropic effort to rescue science from its present malaise by James E. Stowers, who established and generously endowed the Stowers Institute for Medical Research (see: “A Jackpot for Scientific Research, Part II” ).  His large new research institute has some similar features to the Allen Institutes, including that most financial  support is provided internally.  At least 2 different billionaires thus perceive the important advantages for science of using philanthropy to substitute for the perverse research grant system (see:  “Research Grants Cause Both Joy and Despair for University Scientists!” ).   In fact, several other megaphilanthropists recently have initiated support programs which strikingly advance university science [e.g., 1].

Concluding remarks! 

Paul Allen clearly recognizes the negative effects the current research grant system has upon scientific research in universities.  A key feature for investigators in the new Allen Frontiers Group is their liberation from the restrictions and distortions imposed by grant-supported research; they now have the freedom to make important research advances using creativity, innovation, and initiative while daring to take chances!

After reading my previous reports about the Stowers Medical Research Institute, many concluded that sponsorship of high quality scientific research by private philanthropy is NOT realistic because nobody else would donate the large sums of money needed.  Several other big donors show that they all are very wrong!  

It is easy to predict that the outcome of the new Frontiers Group generously sponsored by Paul G. Allen will be nothing short of wonderful!  He should be praised by all research scientists for recharging and improving scientific research at universities!  He truly is a hero in sience!  Hooray for Paul Allen!

 

[1]  Allen Institute, 2016.  “Press Release: Paul G. Allen Announces $100 million to Launch The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group” .  Available on the internet at:  https://www.alleninstitute.org/what-we-do/frontiers-group/news-press/press-resources/press-releases/paul-g-allen-announces-100-million-launch-paul-g-allen-frontiers-group .

[2]  Cha, A. E., 2016.  Philanthropist Paul Allen announces $100 million gift to expand ‘frontiers of bioscience’.  The Washington Post, March 24, Section A, page A2.  Available on the internet at:  http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/doc/1775298386.html?FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Mar+24%2C+2016&author=Ariana+Eunjung+Cha&desc=%24100+million+to+fund+exploration+of+biosciences&free=1&pf=1 .

[3]  The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, 2016.  “Video: Introducing The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group” is available on the internet at:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bkLKuJigpY .

 

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A DRAMATIC INDIVIDUALIST, PAUL G. ALLEN, IS A MAJOR BENEFACTOR OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

Quotations from Paul G. Allen, a most dynamic and revolutionary thinker and doer! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Quotations from Paul G. Allen, a most dynamic and revolutionary thinker and doer! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The co-founder of Microsoft (1975) , Paul G. Allen, has already given over 2 billion dollars to establish several far-sighted new research institutes.  He is a free-thinking man with numerous activities and widespread interests, ranging from music to professional sports and spaceflight.  This dispatch briefly summarizes the remarkable scope of Allen’s dynamic activities, and then discusses how his philanthropy is benefiting scientific research in a big way; a following article will discuss the very novel features of his latest innovative program for stimulating the progress of scientific research.  (POSTSCRIPT on June 5, 2016: readers should note that there is a followup posting about Paul Allen (see: http://dr-monsrs.net/2016/04/14/replacing-research-grants-how-paul-g-allen-is-doing-it/ )!

Background about a vigorously independent individual: Paul G. Allen [1-3]! 

Paul Allen is an author, business owner and investor, entrepreneur and industrialist, explorer of history and geography, founder of several museums, inventor, moviemaker, owner of several professional sports teams, promoter of urban projects in Seattle (his hometown!), rock guitarist, supporter of education and the arts, technological visionary, yachtsman, and, one of the world’s leading philanthropists.  In addition to working with his sister, Jody Allen, on many of those activities, he has utilized his Allen Family Foundation to greatly benefit several universities in the state of Washington, start the Allen Distinguished Educators program that rewards particularly creative and effective education developments by teachers in primary and secondary schools, support a non-governmental organization, Elephants Without Borders, to further the conservation of wild elephants in Africa, establish the Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge as a public contest for improving the health of our oceans, along with stimulating a variety of other programs, projects, and personal explorations.  Most of this is carried out by his company, Vulcan, Inc.; one of its many activities is Vulcan Aerospace, a division  including a collaborative space exploration project with the noted engineer, Burt Rutan (see: “Stratolaunch Systems, A Paul G. Allen Project” ).

Tying all these many explorations together is Paul Allen’s extensive curiosity, diverse personal interests, determination to make ideas flow into new knowledge, affection for going where no-one has tread before, and, his optimistic belief that anything is possible.  For him, the future can be opened right now!  In 2005, Paul Allen published an autobiographical book, Idea Man, A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft, recounting his experiences in co-originating Microsoft; 10 short videos based on this book graphically illustrate his youth and development of operating systems in the early days of personal computing (see “Idea Man Part One: Roots” ).

Paul G. Allen has advanced scientific research in revolutionary ways [1-3]! 

For trying to push science and research beyond all their usual goals and practices, Paul Allen founded and funded the Allen Institute for Brain Research in 2003, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in 2013, and, the Allen Institute for Cell Science in 2014.  These research centers in Seattle feature technologically advanced experimental research by scientists and engineers, and involve such very large and complex research questions as how does the brain work (i.e., how do some 86 billion neurons interact to furnish memory and reasoning?), what can artificial intelligence do for humans (i.e., as individuals and as society?), and how do our cells conduct their varied functions (i.e., in health, disease, and regeneration?).  These giant research investigations at these Institutes all are in the realm of “big science”.

The goals of Paul Allen are nothing less than to revolutionize science and speed up the progress of research.  To do that, he brought the practices of industrial research to bear at the Allen Institutes; these feature numerous doctoral specialists working as teams supported by a large staff and advanced research instrumentation facilities.  At the Institutes, there is little of the problems characterizing science at universities (i.e., massive individual competition, constant worries about continued research grant funding, and, doing niche studies needing only shorter periods of time).  Jumps of discovery are encouraged by creativity, innovation, and interactive teamwork.  Output of these large-scale science projects is made available as internet resources for use by other researchers throughout the world; examples include several Allen Atlases for the mouse and human brains in adulthood and during embryonic growth, the Allen Brain Cell Types Database, the Mouse Neural Connectivity Atlas, and The Animated Cell, a multiscale virtual model that integrates all knowledge about cells and can predict changes in their behavior.

The vision, organization, and goals of these research institutes mostly come from Paul himself.  He sees that science and technology can make dreams become real; he values unconventional new ideas that stimulate groundbreaking findings and jump into the future.  All this aims to benefit the entire world and all people.

Concluding remarks! 

Paul G. Allen is a most dynamic individual!  He deserves admiration for using his own money to benefit science and engineering, the arts, Seattle, Africa, oceans, wildlife, museums, and people everywhere.  He clearly is making a big difference in the conduct of scientific research, by promoting a new design for research on very fundamental large-scale questions.  It is easy to predict that the outcome of his vision of what science and research should be doing will be nothing short of wonderful!

VIDEOS:  Many videos about Paul G. Allen both inside and outside science are available on the internet!  For a glimpse of the man himself, I recommend the following 3!

(1)  “Paul Allen on Gates, Microsoft” by CBS (2011); this presentation involves a hostile interviewer!

(2)  “Stratolaunch Systems: A Paul G. Allen Project” by Vulcan, Inc. (2011); turning ideas into reality!

(3)  “Paul G. Allen on Art” by Vulcan, Inc.  (2015); presents Allen’s many activities to make good art available to the public!

 

[1]  @PaulGAllen, 2016.  “Home page” .  Available on the internet at:  http://www.paulallen.com/ .  NOTE: explore the different headings!

[2]  Allen Institute for Brain Science, 2013.  “Allen Institute for Brain Science: Fueling Discovery” .  Available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HclD7T9KFg .

[3]  Allen Institutes, 2016.  “About” .  Available on the internet at:  http://www.alleninstitute.org/about/ . NOTE: explore the variety of headings indicating the diversity of Paul Allen’s many activities!

 

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A JACKPOT FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IS CREATED BY JAMES E. AND VIRGINIA STOWERS!  PART I.

 

Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

James E Stowers, Jr. (1924-12014) must have understood exactly what are the very biggest problems and impediments for modern science before he and his wife founded and generously financed a wonderful new research institute.  This large research center provides a dramatic new model for the funding of scientific research that avoids the dreadful problems now damaging science at universities.  Part I will briefly relate his interesting history and the unusual organization of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.  Part II will explain in detail why this new direction for supporting scientific research is so unusual, very worthy of emulation, and giving hope that the dying science in modern universities can be rescued.

What sort of person was Jim Stowers?

Jim Stowers was born, raised, and educated in Missouri.  Since he recently passed away at age 90, many publications describe his life story [e.g., 1-3].  With his father and grandfather being physicians, he first studied for some years at the University of Missouri Medical School before entering the US Army Air Force where he served as a fighter pilot in WW2.  When back home, young Stowers became a business entrepreneur.  In 1958 he set up Twentieth Century Mutual Funds, which concentrated on serving individual people; this private company grew under his leadership to later be renamed American Century Investments.  That financial business was very successful and his personal fortune grew substantially as the firm became one of the largest mutual fund companies in the US.

Jim Stowers has co-authored several popular books including an autobiography (see image above under the title).  He and his wife, Virginia, a professional nurse, have several children and grandchildren.  Jim and Virginia Stowers each were stricken with cancer, but both fortunately became cancer survivors and dedicated philanthropists for science.  In 1994, they targeted high quality science by founding the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in their hometown, Kansas City, Missouri.  Their personal donations and endowment (Hope Shares Endowment) total around 2 billion dollars!  Jim Stowers is quoted as saying, “My wife and I wanted to give back something more valuable than money to the millions of people who made our success possible, and we think that through science is the best way we can do it” [2].

A good recent video nicely illustrates the life and activities of Jim Stowers; “James E. Stowers, Jr. Tribute Video” is from American Century Investments, and is available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3g531Fwi64&feature=youtu.be .

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research [1-3]. 

Since its opening in 2000, the Stowers Institute has grown to now have 22 research programs and over 500 research workers.  Over 150 research projects by in-house scientists currently involve 75 postdocs, 58 graduate students, 80 research technicians, and 73 support scientists.  In 2012, The Scientist magazine announced that their annual survey had found the Stowers Institute to rank in the top 3 places for scientists to work worldwide.  Dr.M encourages everyone to take a look at the fascinating website of the Stowers Institute at:  http://www.stowers.org/ .

The mission of the Stowers Institute is to conduct the highest quality scientific research in order to find and understand the secrets of life.  By focusing innovative research on genes and proteins it aims to contribute to the betterment of people by its discoveries relating to the causes, treatments, and prevention of diseases.  The Stowers Institute has a number of unusual features distinguishing it from other biomedical research centers.  Unlike all universities, it is self-supported from the very large endowment from Jim and Virginia Stowers; this means that its faculty-level scientists do not need to spend time worrying about the vagaries of research grants, and instead can concentrate on vigorously doing significant research work.  The size and purposeful organization of the endowment funds will generate ongoing income for the future expenses of this major research center.

Another unusual characteristic of the Stowers Institute is that its multidisciplinary teamwork-based approach is directed onto pure basic research (i.e., to be able to advance detection and clinical treatment of cancer and other difficult diseases, it is necessary to first understand very much more about the activities of genes and proteins in normal and pathological cells).  The Stowers Institute is physically organized to facilitate internal collaborative interactions, and provides the many support services and facilities needed for research operations by its principal investigators (e.g., core labs, shared research equipment, technology centers, etc., with each staffed by technical experts).

Two good recent videos show the Stowers Institute and its activities for science.  “NBC features the Stowers Institute for Medical Researh” is from American Century Investments, and is available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMRIrk9nW8k .  “The Stowers Institute for Medical Research – The Local Show” from station KCPT shows some research scientists in action at the Stowers Institute; it is available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1quFJfeuG0o&spfreload=10 .

The BioMed Valley Discoveries organization. 

The Stowers Institute, which features non-clinical basic research, is affiliated with the nearby BioMed Valley Discoveries, Inc.,  also funded by the Stowers endowment.  This company (see:  https://biomed-valley.com ) features applied pre-clinical and clinical research, by conducting new drug trials and clinical research investigations stemming from the basic findings at the Stowers Institute.  Emphasis is given to translating advances from pure basic research into new and better clinical practices at the bedside of patients.  It does not hesitate to work on disease-related projects considered unprofitable by the large pharmaceutical companies.  Success in its ventures presumably will lead to later commercial developments that will add more funds to the Stowers endowment.

Concluding remarks. 

Everyone must admit that Jim and Virginia Stowers have made a big difference to biomedical science in the US.  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research stands as a successful and inspiring new model for promoting research advances and science progress; this will be discussed in more detail in Part II.  The payoff for the public will come later when new findings generated from innovative basic research at the Stowers Institute result in development of more effective clinical treatments for human diseases.

 

[1]  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 2014.  James E. Stowers, Jr.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.stowers.org/James-E-Stowers .

[2]  American Century Investments, 2014.  Innovator and philanthropist dedicated life to helping others.  Available on the internet at: https://corporate.americancentury.com/content/americancentury/corporate/en/press/news-releases/2014/stowers-tribute.html .

[3]  E. A. Harris, The New York Times, 2014.  James E. Stowers, Jr., benefactor of medical research, dies at 90.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/business/james-e-stowers-jr-benefactor-of-medical-research-dies-at-90.html .

 

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