Ray Dolby, pioneer of trailblazing audio engineering, who died in 2013University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has been given £85 million by the estate of Ray Dolby, the American engineer behind Dolby Surround Sound, in what is the largest philanthropic donation ever made to UK science.

The donation will support the redevelopment of the Cavendish Laboratory, creating the centre’s third home since its founding in 1874.

The Cavendish, Cambridge’s centre for physics research, was where the structure of DNA was discovered, and was where Dolby received his PhD in 1961. 

In recognition of the donation, the flagship building of the redevelopment, expected to open in 2022, will be named the Ray Dolby Centre. A new Research Group, led by a new endowed Professorship, will be established at the Cavendish and named after Dolby.

Concept drawing of the Ray Dolby Centre receptionJestico + Whiles

“This unparalleled gift is a fitting tribute to Ray Dolby’s legacy, who changed the way the world listened” said Professor Stephen Toope, Cambridge’ vice-chancellor . “A century from now, we can only speculate on which discoveries will alter the way we live our lives, and which new industries will have been born in the Cavendish Laboratory, in large part thanks to this extraordinarily generous gift,” he added.

Professor Andy Parker, head of the Cavendish Laboratory praised the generosity of the Dolby family, calling the donation “a truly transformational gift in Cambridge history.”

The Dolby family first donated to Cambridge in 2015, with what was then a overall Cambridge record-breaking £35 million gift to Pembroke College in aid of what Lord Chris Smith, master of Pembroke, called “the biggest change to [the] college in 650 years”.

The gift sees the University move beyond the £1 billion milestone in its ‘Dear World, Yours Cambridge’ campaign, which was launched in October 2015, aiming to raise £2 billion for research, posts, and facilities. At the end of July 2016, the University’s endowment fund (CUEF) was worth approximately £2.8 billion, the largest in the UK, but far smaller than its Ivy League counterparts in the United States. At the end of 2016, the value of the University of Harvard’s endowment stood at £26.61 billion.


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Dolby came to Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar in 1957 and received his PhD from the Cavendish in 1961. Four years later he founded Dolby Laboratories and invented the Dolby System, an analogue audio encoding system that provided a significant improvement in the quality of recorded sound. He remained a fellow of Pembroke College until his death in 2013 at the age of 80.

Dolby’s widow Dagmar described the University as having “played a pivotal role in Ray’s life, both personally and professionally”, saying that the experience enabled him to start his business.

“Many of his successful ideas about noise reduction were stimulated by his Cambridge experience,” said Dolby’s son David, who added that the family was pleased to be able to support future scientists through the Ray Dolby Centre.

The government today confirmed it would by investing a further £75 million in the Cavendish, as promised in the 2015 Spending Review. Work on the new facility is expected to begin in 2019.