On Campus

UCalgary recieves $25-million from U.S. oil tycoon

Surprises everyone by changing $2.5 million to largest gift in university's history

Legendary oil tycoon Boone Pickens has dropped a $25-million bait-and-switch on the University of Calgary.

But nobody’s complaining.

The Texas billionaire and former Calgarian was expected to donate $2.25-million to the Harley Hotchkiss Brain Institute Friday.

But when it came time to show the money, Mr. Pickens added another $25-million – for a total of $27.25-million, the largest gift ever given the university.

The donation came at the ribbon cutting of the Boone Pickens Centre for Neurological Science and Advanced Technologies.

University president Harvey Weingarten assured Mr. Pickens the money will be well-invested and spent.

“We have assembled one of the most incredible groups of individuals in this field,” said Mr. Weingarten. “We could use a lot of surprises like this.”

The donation is the only philanthropy Mr. Pickens has conducted outside the U.S. and the oilpatch guru partly credited his friendship with Calgary Flames co-owner Harley Hotchkiss, who has also given generously to the university.

“I lived here in the ’60s and Harley and I have been friends so when he asked me to help, I did,” said Mr. Pickens.

“I have fond feelings about Calgary.”

The promise of that investment was apparent with researcher Michael Colicos implanting living brain cells onto computer chips to discover what makes them dysfunctional.

A benefactor of his work could be his own two-year-old daughter, Alexandra, who has epilepsy.

“There’s obviously a double-edged sword … it’s a unique dynamic,” said Mr. Colicos.

In his lab, scientists are able to induce seizures on a silicon chip and treat them in a variety of ways.

“We see the cells that are dying and we can work at ways of stopping them from dying,” he said.

“We can look at thousands of drugs at the same time.”

The process is being commercialized and could help those suffering from conditions ranging from autism to spinal cord damage.

The Canadian Press

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