Eckhardt's $20 million gift an investment in future of science

July 17, 2008

A major program to build new fields of scientific expertise and expand existing efforts at the University has inspired a $20 million donation to benefit the Physical Sciences Division from Chicago futures trader and alumnus William Eckhardt (S.M., '70).

The University's Board of Trustees has endorsed plans to make significant investments in scientific programs that will span the biological, physical and social sciences.

These plans include construction of the Center for Physical and Computational Sciences, an initiative in applied mathematics and computation, and greatly expanded programs in genomics and personalized medicine, and in the neurosciences. The University also is considering a faculty proposal to establish a new molecular engineering institute.

"As one of our own alumni, Bill Eckhardt possesses a deep appreciation for the University's long-standing, multi-disciplinary approach that fosters work across the boundaries of science," said President Zimmer. "His gift will have a galvanizing impact on the ability of our scientists to carry out their most innovative work."

University Trustee Thomas Pritzker said: "We are in a time of revolutionary change in science and technology that is fundamentally altering how we understand our world. The University of Chicago will invest heavily to provide agenda-setting leadership in fields that are on the cusp of discovery."

Many of the University's science initiatives are focused on a paradigm shift that characterizes some of the most exciting areas of science today—a systems approach that allows understanding based upon not only the knowledge of the behavior of individual components, but in addition, how these components interact and fit into a larger structure.

The Research Institutes building will become a major venue for the University’s future research in systems-level science. The University will renovate the Research Institutes building and name it the William Eckhardt Research Institutes building in Eckhardt's honor.

The Eckhardt Research Institutes building will be a major component of the new Center for Physical and Computational Sciences, with construction scheduled to begin in fall 2010.

A universe in a box: This simulation, conducted by Andrey Kravtsov, Associate Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, is of large-scale structure formation in the universe.

The Center will consist of a seamless structure on the west side of Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th streets. The University has selected HOK as the architect.

The Center will house the Computation Institute, the Enrico Fermi Institute, the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics and part of the James Franck Institute, along with the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Department of Computer Science.

"The tremendous generosity of Bill Eckhardt will make a major impact on the great science done at the University," said Robert Fefferman, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division.

"We can expect some of the most fundamental discoveries of the future to take place in the Eckhardt Research Institutes building, just as they have taken place in the Research Institutes since the time of Enrico Fermi. The list of individuals who have occupied this building reads like a ‘who’s who’ of 20th-century science and, we anticipate, will be the home of the leading scientists of the next century."

Eckhardt holds two mathematics degrees, a master’s from Chicago (1970), and a bachelor's from DePaul University (1969).

He is chairman and CEO of Eckhardt Trading Company and was among the traders featured in Jack Schwager's book, The New Market Wizards (1992).

"We as individuals and collectively as a society must divide our giving between the support of urgent, current necessities, and incremental, lasting contributions," Eckhardt said.

"My contribution to the University of Chicago is an investment in science, in the future, in the understanding of our world."

As a graduate student at the University, Eckhardt worked closely with the late Saunders Mac Lane, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Mathematics. Eckhardt said he regarded Mac Lane as "one of the brightest lights I've ever known," and the University of Chicago as "one of the great universities of the world."

Eckhardt co-founded C & D Commodities with Richard Dennis in 1978, and they operated it together until 1987. Eckhardt established Eckhardt Trading Company in 1991; the firm currently manages more than $800 million in accounts.

For nearly three decades, Eckhardt has researched futures price action extensively and has developed many technical trading systems. He drew on his background in the history of scientific methods and mathematical statistics to develop his trading program.

He joined the Physical Sciences Visiting Committee at the University in 2006. He also serves on the International Advisory Board of the Pacific Institute of Theoretical Physics.