EUGENE — Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife have pledged $500 million to the University of Oregon toward a new scientific research facility.

The donation is the largest ever awarded to UO and is meant to launch a $1 billion, 10-year effort to build a three-building complex and add new graduate students and post-doctoral researchers to the university, The Register-Guard reported.

The university is calling the proposed new complex the "Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact."

The Knight donation will be provided over 10 years and will go toward construction of the new facility and also to endowments to generate income for the 30 new faculty positions being added as a result. In all, the new program will add 30 new faculty, 250 new graduate students and 150 new post-doctoral researchers

UO President Michael Schill said the $500 million pledge is the biggest ever to a U.S. public flagship university.

"This gift from Phil and Penny Knight is a game changer for the University of Oregon and for all of the state," he said. "We will look back on this day as a turning point in scientific discovery and impact. This act of philanthropy is the genesis for a new kind of research hub that will catapult Oregon's knowledge-based economy forward and benefit society in ways we cannot yet imagine."

The $500 million pledge is the latest in a string of donations by the Knights to UO and other institutions.

Knight, in a prepared statement released by the university, said he believes his donation to UO's science program will pay off.

"While not without risk, we believe the expected societal returns from such investments are high," he said

University officials say they plan to break ground within a year and open the first building in the project within three years.