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Science  04 May 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5825, pp. 671a
DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5825.671a

STAR COMPANY. It sounds like the opening of some nerdy joke: A billionaire and a cosmologist go for a horse-drawn carriage ride. But Texas oil magnate George Mitchell and famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking did just that last month at Mitchell's 2400-hectare spread outside Houston. The unlikely bond is part of Mitchell's effort to elevate his alma mater, Texas A&M University in College Station, into the highest ranks in cosmology and theoretical physics.

Since he met Hawking in 2002, Mitchell has donated slightly more than $50 million to support cosmology research at Texas A&M, helping to create a center for fundamental physics and endowing 10 chaired professorships. He is also chipping in $250,000 per year to support collaborations between Texas A&M researchers and Hawking and colleagues at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

“I've been interested in cosmology since I was 15 years old, but I had to find something in which I could make a living,” says the 87-year-old Mitchell. He became a petroleum engineer and founded Mitchell Energy and Development Corp., which he sold in 2002. “George is a remarkable man,” Hawking told the Houston Chronicle last month. “He has enabled us … to attack some of the most challenging problems in cosmology.”

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