sealPurdue News

September 7, 2001

Chicago-area couple gives $30 million for Purdue nanotech center

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University has received a $30 million gift from Chicago-area couple Michael and Katherine (Kay) Birck toward the university's new $51 million nanotechnology center.

Michael and Katherine Birck

"This gift from Mike and Kay Birck will enable Purdue to become a national leader in nanotechnology research," said Purdue University President Martin C. Jischke. "Over the years they have made enormous contributions to Purdue, and those contributions will benefit not only the research community, but business, industry and society as a whole in the 21st century."

Construction of the new three-floor facility – the Birck Nanotechnology Centeris expected to begin July 2002 and be completed in the summer of 2004. It will be located on the west edge of campus in Discovery Park.

The announcement launched Discover Purdue Week, which concludes with the Purdue-Notre Dame football game Sept. 15. Discover Purdue Week, in turn, kicks off of a yearlong campaign to help Hoosiers "Discover Purdue."

Michael Birck is a member of the university's board of trustees. He has held leadership roles with the Purdue Alumni Foundation and Purdue President's Council, from which he won the distinguished service award in 1996. He was a member of the national cabinet for Vision 21, the university's fund-raising effort that brought in $332 million in private support to the university.

In 1993 the Bircks established a $2.3 million endowment in Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Income from the endowment supports undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and a distinguished academic chair in electrical and computer engineering.

The Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex is named for the Bircks in recognition of their $3 million donation that helped support major improvements on the two 18-hole courses and practice area. The Bircks also were major contributors to Purdue's new aquatic center, which opened in August.

Michael Birck received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1960 and a master's in electrical engineering from New York University in 1962 while working at AT&T's Bell Laboratories. He left the firm in 1966 and worked for two Chicago-area telecommunications companies before helping found Tellabs Inc. in 1975. He was president and chief executive officer of Tellabs for more than 25 years and is now the company's chairman. Tellabs develops and manufactures special telecommunications equipment and is based in Lisle, Ill. The Bircks live in Hinsdale, Ill., where Kay Birck is head of nursing at Women's Healthcare of Hinsdale.

Birck said he was motivated to provide major funding for the new center because nanotechnology will be critical to future developments in everything from computers to medicine. The facility will establish Purdue as a leader in this new frontier of science.

"Virtually all universities with an engineering focus consider nanotechnology to be an essential technology, " Birck said. "With this facility, Purdue will be positioned at the forefront."

Michael Birck has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Ernst Weber Engineering Leadership Recognition Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Illinois High-Tech Entrepreneur Award and the Chicago-area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1991 he received the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award from the Purdue Schools of Engineering, and in 1995 he received a Purdue honorary doctor of engineering degree.

Kay Birck is from Terre Haute, Ind., and Michael Birck grew up on a farm near Clinton, Ind., and graduated in a high school class of 11. He credits Purdue for shaping his career and preparing him for the ultra-competitive world of business and industry.

Additional funding will be needed for future improvements to the center.

"I would like to encourage others to join me, to step up now and make a commitment to help fund this exciting adventure," Birck said.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Source: Martin C. Jischke, (765) 494-9708

Related information:
Top 10 gifts to Purdue

Related Web site:
Purdue Development

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A publication-quality photograph of Michael and Katherine Birck and a Discover Purdue logo are available at or at They are called: Bircks.jpeg and Disc.Purdue.jpeg.

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page