Josh Friedman ’76, M.B.A. ’80, J.D. ’82, announces the expanded program, known as the Star-Friedman Challenge for Promising Scientific Research, which will be open to faculty at HMS and HSPH, in addition to FAS and SEAS

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Campus & Community

Expanding support for leading research

5 min read

Star-Friedman Challenge for Promising Scientific Research will double to include HMS, HSPH faculty

A gift from Josh Friedman ’76, M.B.A. ’80, J.D. ’82, and Beth Friedman, longstanding benefactors of the University, will double the resources available for high-risk, high-reward science, allowing more of the most ambitious research projects at Harvard to move forward.

For five years, the Star Family Challenge for Promising Scientific Research has provided seed funding for Faculty of Arts and Sciences professors pursuing interdisciplinary and potentially pathbreaking research projects. The program boldly addresses a critical need in science: Traditional funding sources tend to award conservatively, which could mean that a revolutionary new idea will be rejected as too novel or risky.

The Challenge was conceived by and established at the direction of James A. Star ’83, another longstanding friend of Harvard whose many leadership gifts include creating a similarly innovative program promoting excellence in undergraduate advising. Thanks to the Friedmans’ new gift, next year the Challenge will double in size and expand in scope, reaching even more faculty across Harvard.

The expanded program, known as the Star-Friedman Challenge for Promising Scientific Research, will be open to faculty at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in addition to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“Our goal is to find and fund unique ideas that lack access to funding, whether because those ideas are at an early stage of development or have been proposed by younger researchers,” said Challenge founder Star in announcing the expansion of the program. “Josh and Beth are wonderful people who are deeply and thoughtfully committed to the communities of which they are a part, and they are robustly engaged with a number of worthy institutions. How lucky we are that Harvard is one of them.”

“We are here because of Jamie and his original vision,” said Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael Smith. “The Challenge has had a huge impact on our institution and the work that’s being done here across the sciences. Both Jamie and Josh bring incredibly broad interests to the natural and social sciences. Their curiosity is enabling the curiosity of our faculty. They deeply understand this institution and the community. We attract incredibly creative, broad-based faculty and students to this institution with the excellence we have across our many different disciplines, and this program leverages that strength.”

For Friedman, who was a physics concentrator and later graduated from both Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, the Challenge offered an ideal chance to support the institution that played a significant role in his life.

“First, it was focused on scientific research, which I think should be and is a key priority at Harvard and in the world today,” he said. “As Harvard continues to develop the One Harvard initiative, this program fits very well because it takes a step back from the siloed approach to science and allows for cross-disciplinary work, and is now expanding to include the Medical School and the School of Public Health. I think it’s programs like this that make Harvard such a valued and valuable institution. My hope is that every year we’re going to wake up and see extraordinary breakthroughs that are developed as a result of our research grants.”

Friedman has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to giving back to Harvard, not only through his family’s philanthropy but also through many years of volunteer service. He serves on the Harvard Management Company’s Board of Directors, a group elected by the President and Fellows of Harvard College to advise the University, drawing on its members’ expertise in investment, academia, and industry. Friedman also serves on the University Task Force on Science and Engineering, the FAS Campaign Steering Committee, and the Los Angeles Campaign Committee, and advisory councils at Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Law School.

Together, the Friedmans have been leaders and generous supporters of The Harvard Campaign, both serving on the University’s Campaign Executive Committee. In addition to their landmark gift to expand the Star-Friedman Challenge, their campaign support includes a new, unrestricted gift to the President’s Fund with a preference for supporting the sciences, and a gift in 2011 to establish the Joshua and Beth Friedman University Professorship.

Notably, the first faculty member appointed to the Friedmans’ University Professorship — Charles Lieber, who chairs the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology — was one of the winners of the Challenge for Promising Scientific Research in 2014, the program’s inaugural year.

The high-profile nature of Lieber’s pathbreaking research — which led to publication in leading scientific journals and popular media outlets — and the convergence of the Friedman University Professorship and the Star-Friedman Challenge serve to illustrate the breadth and impact of the Friedmans’ philanthropy across the sciences at Harvard.