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Joan and Irwin Jacobs donate $100 million to Salk Institute

It’s a big day at the Salk Institute on Friday. Philanthropists Joan and Irwin Jacobs announced they are giving the science and research center up to $100 million, making it Salk’s largest single donation to date.

Martin Hetzer, the institute’s chief science officer, said this donation is transformative.

"Fifty years from now people will look back on this moment and recognize this as a significant moment in our history," he said. "This is a long-lasting legacy and we are eternally grateful."

The money will go toward building a $500 million science and technology center that will be named after the Jacobs.

Joan and Irwin Jacobs Donation at Salk Institute
Kitty Alvarado
La Jolla, Joan and Irwin Jacobs stand proudly behind a model of the center that will bear their name at the Salk Institute, Nov. 12, 2021

Irwin Jacobs, the founder and former CEO of Qualcomm, said it's a big day for his family too.

"We’re just very excited about the plans for the new building, the work that’s going to go on in that new building and so we want to make sure that it will happen and happen fast enough to really make a difference both to Salk but also to the entire city," he said.

As an engineer by trade, he said, science is important to him and contributing to this center that will benefit many, means everything.

"That of course is always a motivation for all of us how can we help many people most of whom we’ll never know," Jacobs said, "but how can we help them have a more successful and more healthy life? And so supporting the science here is an important aspect of that."

Joan Jacobs said she's proud of her husband's hard work and generosity. She hopes this donation inspires others to give generously to a place that will help future generations.

"I hope it will set an example," she said. "For me, that’s the most important part of our giving is that other people will realize that it’s an important thing to do and to set an example for them and for our children."

The institute was founded 60 years ago by the polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk. Hetzer said this gift means more scientists can work towards curing diseases like cancer and preventing the next illness yet to be discovered.

He wants everyone to be a part of this legacy and center.

"Everyone is welcome to join whatever they can contribute," he said. "It makes a difference it can fund important projects that drive science further but also to training the next generation of scientists."

Joan and Irwin Jacobs are also supporters of KPBS.

Updated: November 12, 2021 at 6:34 PM PST