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Gift from Alumnus Gregory Olsen

U.Va. School Of Engineering Receives $15 Million For Materials Science -- Largest Gift In School’s History

December 19, 2000 -- Gregory H. Olsen, president and CEO of Sensors Unlimited Inc., a fiber optics firm based in Princeton, N.J., has pledged $15 million to the University of Virginia. Benefiting the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, where Olsen received a Ph.D. degree in 1971, the gift is the largest ever received by the University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. It complements a significant effort under way to expand engineering research activities at the University, particularly in the area of new materials.

"We are especially grateful to Greg Olsen for his most generous gift to the Engineering School," said University President John T. Casteen III. "It comes at a critical time as the University accelerates efforts to strengthen the areas of science and technology. Greg's interest and understanding of what is needed to move the school forward will be key to Engineering's ability to achieve excellence in materials science."

The gift will assure the construction of a new $14 million building that will greatly expand the department’s research and teaching space and also will provide new conference rooms and faculty offices, among other facilities. The Engineering School will recommend to the University’s Board of Visitors that the building be named Wilsdorf Hall in honor of the late Heinz Wilsdorf, first chair of the department, and his wife, Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, University Professor of Applied Science. The new structure, due to begin construction in 2002, will connect the University’s Materials Science and Chemical Engineering buildings.

Olsen’s gift also will provide discretionary funds that the department can use where the need is greatest. According to Richard W. Miksad, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the contribution will enable an already highly ranked program to move into new areas of advanced materials research.

"The additional space provided by this building will allow for new collaborative projects between various departments and schools at the University," Miksad said. "Such collaborations are important to our school’s leadership in emerging technologies."

As a student working under the direction of Professor William Jesser, Olsen conducted research at the University on phase transformations in epitaxial thin films of iron. Eventually shifting his focus from metals to semiconductors to fiber optics, he worked with RCA labs in Princeton before founding Epitaxx in 1984 and Sensors Unlimited in 1991.

"It is with great pride that I’ve watched Greg’s successes over the years. I’m delighted that he has chosen to contribute such an important gift in support of our department," said Jesser, now chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The gift resulted from the recent acquisition of Sensors Unlimited by Finisar Corp., whose founder, Frank Levinson, received a Ph.D. degree in astronomy at the University in 1980. In addition to serving as president and CEO of Sensors Unlimited, now a subsidiary of Finisar, Olsen is executive vice president and a board member of Finisar Corp.

Olsen speaks highly of the depth and breadth of the training he received in the University’s Engineering School. "The principles are the same, whether we’re talking metals, semiconductors, or plastics," he said. "Twenty-four years later, I am still using the background I got in materials science. I’m very high on Virginia that way."

Contact: Carol Wood, (804) 924-6189

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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