Bocas del Toro Research Station, Panama 

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

$38.5 Million raised

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Advancing Science to Sustain Our Planet

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)—located primarily in Panama—conducts pioneering research in tropical biology dedicated to understanding the past, present and future of tropical biodiversity and its relevance to human welfare.

Several Smithsonian Campaign gifts significantly expanded STRI’s research capacity and ability to nurture world-class scientific talent.

The Simons Foundation gave $5 million to endow fellowships at STRI to advance frontier research in microbiology and promote the next generation of tropical scholars. The F.H. Levinson Fund endowed the directorship of the Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO), a global network of forest research plots and scientists dedicated to the study of forest function and diversity. Dr. Stuart Davies was appointed to this position.

STRI’s “Big Bet” endowment received several donations to advance new frontiers and creative ideas in science, through “bets” not fundable through traditional sources.  One “Big Bet”-funded project explored how tropical forests tolerate low phosphorus in soils. With worldwide phosphorus levels perilously low, the project has the potential to revolutionize global agriculture. STRI scientists are looking at ways to develop phosphorus-efficient crops that require less fertilizer, with important implications for global food security.

A $1 million matching grant from the Mellon Foundation provided support for STRI fellowships for emerging scholars from across the world. The institute now hosts a cadre of fellows—many from Panama and Latin America—who would not otherwise have been able to pursue a career in tropical science.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Leadership Message

Leadership Message

Nearly half the world’s human population lives in the tropics amid remarkable biodiversity. These regions are under tremendous, growing pressure as demand for natural resources intensifies.

In few places are the challenges of population growth and the loss of species seen more clearly. These disruptions of vulnerable tropical ecosystems and the additional stressor of climate change, which is altering important drivers — temperature, precipitation, sea-level — are making it ever more challenging to maintain sustainable environmental conditions in the future.

So where do we go from here?

Your investment in the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s century-long commitment to understanding biodiversity will help us to illuminate the brilliance of life in the tropics, seek answers to inform our understanding of global change and find new, sustainable approaches to resource management and conservation.

It will enable us to document, analyze and share knowledge and continue to pioneer programs that set global standards and advance our understanding of fundamental biological processes. Whether that critical data comes from the 60 worldwide forest plots we monitor or from a radio-tracking study of whales leading to new regulations to stop whale collisions with ships, our mission has never been more urgent.

I’m thrilled to lead this premier research institute. Providing strong, objective science to local and global decision makers is essential to our path forward.
Thank you for your support.

  • Matt Larsen
    Director, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Campaign Case

Discovering Knowledge To Sustain Our Planet

The stunning diversity of plant and animal species in the tropics holds a storehouse of new knowledge about our planet. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute pioneers research across the tropics. Our investment in long-term studies is critical to understanding life on Earth and to addressing 21st-century challenges.

Our nine campuses straddle the low continental divide separating two oceans in Panama. This unique laboratory yields insights into ecology and millions of years of evolution. For more than a century, the Smithsonian has convened an active, international community of scientists in Panama. We provide historical perspective and keep our fingers on the pulse of biological processes key to our survival.

Our studies help scientists to predict how global change will alter forest and marine ecosystems and how disease and invasive species will spread. Our results inform policy decisions around the world.

The Smithsonian Campaign will enable new discoveries about nature and human impact in the tropics and deepen understanding of how to sustain the planet.

Strengthening Leadership
Investment in question-driven science guides the research of our nearly 50 resident scientists and 1,400 visiting scientists and students. We seek gifts to endow chairs for researchers to put their passion to work on critical topics ranging from tropical anthropology to zoology.

At the Forefront of Research
Endowment of a fund for game-changing ideas in tropical science positions the Smithsonian to take advantage of unexpected opportunities in multi-disciplinary research and create new, forward-looking initiatives.

Next Generation Tropical Scientists
We are a premier training ground for tropical biologists and scholars, providing transformative educational experiences in projects such as the recent discovery of the world’s largest known prehistoric snake, Titanoboa, in South America. Campaign gifts will support career-building fellowships and public programs to inspire stewardship of the natural world.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

is raising $50 million of the Smithsonian Campaign’s overall $1.5 billion goal. 

Campaign Priorities

Endow Leaders

$25 Million

We seek investments of $25 million to endow leadership positions. A $4 million gift endows a research chair or director of education and outreach, enabling us to hire creative minds to lead in exciting new directions. Endowed positions provide us with the freedom to develop innovative approaches and take risks that lead to breakthroughs. Your gift will help to keep the Smithsonian nimble as our understanding of life advances.

Strengthen “Big Bet” Endowment

$10 Million

Our goal is to raise $10 million to fund innovative research that keeps us in the vanguard of scientific discovery. Gift opportunities range from $25,000 to $5 million.

Training Tropical Scientists

$10 Million

We seek investments of $10 million to support career-changing field experiences in tropical science. Opportunities include $25,000 for educational programs, $500,000 for a marine education center and $1 million for a postdoctoral or senior fellowship.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Jim Simons during a visit to the Smithsonian's research station in Panama with staff scientist, William Wcislo.



Jim and Marilyn Simons

Focusing Keen Minds on Complex Challenges

Jim Simons likes complex problems. He has a doctorate in math and founded Renaissance Technologies, an investment firm. Understanding the breathtaking diversity and complexity of the tropics requires the collaboration of many minds. He and his wife, Marilyn Simons, invested in an endowment for fellowships at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to help advance frontiers in research, build alliances and promote the next generation of tropical scholars. "We are delighted to support the Institute's important work to understand diversity," Jim Simons says. 



Investing in Young Scientists

Investing in Young Scientists

A gift from Douglas Morrison increases the number of career-building fellowships at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) for junior researchers who are furthering knowledge of biodiversity in the tropics. As a doctoral student in the 1970s, Morrison conducted research at the STRI field station on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. STRI provided him not only with subsidized room and board at the field station, but also with an international community of fellow researchers who shared data and ideas. One of these researchers was the late Charles Handley, then curator of mammals at the National Museum of Natural History. Handley had been researching fruit bats at Barro Colorado Island and encouraged Morrison to build on his studies by developing miniaturized transmitter radios to track the bats and better understand their behavior. This research formed the foundation of Morrison's academic career; today he is a biology professor at Rutgers University. "The network of scientists at STRI expanded my intellectual horizons," says Morrison, who returned to Barro Colorado Island in 2004 when his daughter, Julie, interviewed scientists there for her own college project. "STRI continues to be an extraordinary incubator of scientific ideas. It supports researchers who are gathering scientific data on the importance of the tropics to this planet. I want young scientists—especially in Latin America—to continue to have the opportunities STRI gave to me." Morrison's gift augments the endowment for the Stanley Rand Fellowship, named after a pioneering STRI scientist, and provides stipends for Rand fellows.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Contact Us

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Campaign Officers

Smithsonian Tropical Research Advisory Board

  • Frank Levinson, Chair
  • Eric Daniels
  • Mercedes Eleta de Brenes
  • Pedro Heilbron
  • Steven G. Hoch
  • Thomas Tupper
  • Richard Sandor
  • W. John Kress

Fundación Smithsonian de Panamá

  • Pedro Heilbron, Chair
  • Gladys Navarro de Gerbaud
  • Joseph Fidanque III
  • Anna Lisa Porras
  • Tomás Herrera
  • Alfredo Fonseca
  • Nicolás Psychoyos
  • Rodolfo Icaza
  • Jaime Alemán

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Total Goal:
$38.5 Million


$38.5 Million Raised

As of November 30, 2017

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