The University of Oregon has announced a $10 million gift from former and current board chairs Gwendolyn and Charles Lillis to endow two faculty positions in volcano research in the Department of Earth Sciences.
The commitment — which includes a $2 million challenge match for donations to the program over the next five years — is aimed at creating a "volcanology cluster of excellence" and increasing the number of tenured faculty in the department. To that end, the funds will be used to "secure one top-flight specialist in satellite remote sensing and geodesy and another in computational modeling," said Paul Wallace, who heads the volcanology faculty cluster. "This group will focus on the use of new technologies for monitoring volcanoes and their eruptions to help protect people and infrastructure worldwide."
According to Wallace, an estimated six hundred million people are at direct risk from ash plumes, pyroclastic flows, and other kinds of volcanic activity, while the economic effects of such eruptions are felt globally, as, for example, when a 2010 eruption in Iceland closed down airports in Western Europe at a cost of $1.7 billion.
Chuck Lillis, who received his doctorate in 1972 from the university's Lundquist College of Business, has been a business professor and director of corporate marketing and research at General Electric. Gwendolyn Lillis is managing general partner of Castle Rock Investments, managing director of the Lillis Foundation, and chairs the Lundquist College of Business board of advisors.
"These hires will enable the university to capitalize on one of its proven strengths," said Chuck Lillis. "Gwen and I have been inspired by the great work of our volcanologists. We see this as an investment that will accelerate their research here and will ultimately lead to greater safety for those that live in the arc of active volcanoes."