By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff
Harvard University announced today the largest gift in its history, a $125 million donation from entrepreneur Hansjorg Wyss to create a new institute dedicated to biological engineering.
"It's really wonderful," said Provost Steven E. Hyman of the gift, which will establish a new Hansjorg Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, to be located in the new science complex being built in Allston. "This is both an exciting cornerstone area for our new expanded efforts in biological engineering...[and] a way of tying together the Cambridge side of the river with the Boston side of the river -- the medical school, but also our affiliated hospitals."
The gift marks the continuing push at Harvard toward interdisciplinary science and an attempt to knit together the academic resources among different schools at Harvard and affiliated hospitals. It is also part of a larger attempt to elevate engineering to a new platform, as the school last year elevated engineering from a division within Harvard University into a school of engineering.
Wyss is an alum of Harvard Business School and entrepreneur who is ranked on Forbes' list of billionaires and is chairman of the Swiss medical device company Synthes.
"This gift underscores Harvard's ability to lead and to make very significant contributions in a field that is of increasing importance to scientists in a number of areas, to science more generally," Harvard president Drew Faust said in a statement.
The donation will fund seven faculty and operating funds for the Institute, and will be led by Donald Ingber, professor of bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Work at the Institute will include the new field of synthetic biology, in which scientists attempt to make working with cells and genes more like building circuits. It will also include a "living materials program" that will probe the natural world for engineering and design principles in the search for new materials and devices.
"Little did I dream when I began my career in engineering that we would reach a point where engineers and biologists would be using nature's templates to create solutions to our medical and environmental challenges," Wyss said in a statement.
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