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All the Contents of the Universe, in One Graphic



Infographic showing the composition of the universe

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All the Contents of the Universe, in One Graphic

Scientists agree that the universe consists of three distinct parts: everyday visible (or measurable) matter, and two theoretical components called dark matter and dark energy.

These last two are theoretical because they have yet to be directly measured—but even without a full understanding of these mysterious pieces to the puzzle, scientists can infer that the universe’s composition can be broken down as follows:

Dark energy68%
Dark matter27%
Free hydrogen and helium4%
Heavy elements0.03%

Let’s look at each component in more detail.

Dark Energy

Dark energy is the theoretical substance that counteracts gravity and causes the rapid expansion of the universe. It is the largest part of the universe’s composition, permeating every corner of the cosmos and dictating how it behaves and how it will eventually end.

Dark Matter

Dark matter, on the other hand, has a restrictive force that works closely alongside gravity. It is a sort of “cosmic cement” responsible for holding the universe together. Despite avoiding direct measurement and remaining a mystery, scientists believe it makes up the second largest component of the universe.

Free Hydrogen and Helium

Free hydrogen and helium are elements that are free-floating in space. Despite being the lightest and most abundant elements in the universe, they make up roughly 4% of its total composition.

Stars, Neutrinos, and Heavy Elements

All other hydrogen and helium particles that are not free-floating in space exist in stars.

Stars are one of the most populous things we can see when we look up at the night sky, but they make up less than one percent—roughly 0.5%—of the cosmos.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that are similar to electrons, but they are nearly weightless and carry no electrical charge. Although they erupt out of every nuclear reaction, they account for roughly 0.3% of the universe.

Heavy elements are all other elements aside from hydrogen and helium.

Elements form in a process called nucleosynthesis, which takes places within stars throughout their lifetimes and during their explosive deaths. Almost everything we see in our material universe is made up of these heavy elements, yet they make up the smallest portion of the universe: a measly 0.03%.

How Do We Measure the Universe?

In 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a space observatory called Planck to study the properties of the universe as a whole.

Its main task was to measure the afterglow of the explosive Big Bang that originated the universe 13.8 billion years ago. This afterglow is a special type of radiation called cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR).

Temperature can tell scientists much about what exists in outer space. When investigating the “microwave sky”, researchers look for fluctuations (called anisotropy) in the temperature of CMBR. Instruments like Planck help reveal the extent of irregularities in CMBR’s temperature, and inform us of different components that make up the universe.

You can see below how the clarity of CMBR changes over time with multiple space missions and more sophisticated instrumentation.
CMBR Instruments

What Else is Out There?

Scientists are still working to understand the properties that make up dark energy and dark matter.

NASA is currently planning a 2027 launch of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, an infrared telescope that will hopefully help us in measuring the effects of dark energy and dark matter for the first time.

As for what’s beyond the universe? Scientists aren’t sure.

There are hypotheses that there may be a larger “super universe” that contains us, or we may be a part of one “island” universe set apart from other island multiverses. Unfortunately we aren’t able to measure anything that far yet. Unravelling the mysteries of the deep cosmos, at least for now, remains a local endeavor.

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Ranked: The World’s Top 50 Endowment Funds

Endowment funds represent the investment arms of nonprofits. See the worlds top 50, which collectively have over $1 trillion in assets.



Ranked: The World’s Top 50 Endowment Funds

What do Harvard, the Church Commissioners for England, the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art, and an entity on behalf of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah all have in common? They all have endowment funds.

An endowment fund is the investment arm of nonprofit institutions like universities, charities, and churches. The purpose of the fund is to invest the organization’s assets to fuel future operations and other important projects.

The world’s largest endowment funds have billions in investable assets, making them sizable players in the finance sector. Here, using data from Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, we take a closer look at the world’s largest endowment funds by total assets.

Types of Endowment Funds

Overall, there are four main types of endowment structures.

  • Unrestricted Endowment: A fund structure where assets are used at the full discretion of the institution
  • Term Endowment: A fund structure with a fixed term time period before the principal can be spent
  • Quasi Endowment: A donation to an endowment with a specific purpose to deploy that capital
  • Restricted Endowment: A fund structure where the principal value from donations is held forever and only returns generated on the principal can be used

In addition, each endowment fund has different structures in regards to withdrawals, use of funds, and their general investment philosophy.

The Largest Endowment Funds

The largest endowment funds can be compared on a grand economic scale, in terms of assets.

To put it all into perspective, the largest 50 endowment funds represent over a trillion dollars in assets. Or for a more singular example, look at Harvard’s fund, which has an endowment greater than the entire GDP of countries like Serbia, Bolivia, or Slovenia.

Here’s how the top 50 rank.

RankEndowment FundTotal AssetsRegion
1Ensign Peak Advisors, Inc$124,000,000,000North America
2Japan Science and Technology Agency$80,700,000,000Asia
3Stanford University$75,143,751,000North America
4Harvard Management Company$72,781,329,000North America
5Yale University$56,223,259,000North America
6Princeton University$44,460,038,000North America
7MIT Investment Management Company$42,526,492,000North America
8Duke University$30,385,835,000North America
9New York University$27,840,535,000North America
10Columbia University in the City of New York$24,698,782,000North America
11University of Notre Dame$24,599,541,000North America
12KAUST Investment Management Company$23,500,000,000Middle East
13Emory University$20,458,905,000North America
14Johns Hopkins University$18,037,751,000North America
15Church Pension Fund$17,773,649,171North America
16University of Chicago$17,276,136,000North America
17Ohio State University$16,006,851,000North America
18Northwestern University$15,855,683,000North America
19Washington University in St Louis$15,103,569,000North America
20Penn State University, Office of Investment Management$15,017,272,000North America
21Notre Dame of Maryland University$14,938,580,253North America
22Cornell University$14,850,618,000North America
23University of Southern California$14,495,427,000North America
24Vanderbilt University$13,883,495,000North America
25University of Virginia Investment Management Compnay$13,811,076,000North America
26University of Tokyo$13,285,270,000Asia
27National University of Singapore$12,626,100,000Asia
28UNC Management Company$11,986,857,000North America
29University of Michigan Office of Investments$11,900,000,000North America
30General Authority of Awqaf$11,238,371,192Middle East
31Church Commissioners for England$11,197,700,000Europe
32J.Paul Getty Trust$10,778,927,000North America
33Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church$9,932,419,000North America
34Unitersity of Utah$9,827,602,000North America
35Brown University$9,793,108,000North America
36Kamehameha Schools$9,326,013,000North America
37Dartmouth College$9,078,340,000North America
38Hong Kong Jockey Club$8,603,580,000Asia
39Rice University$8,424,555,000North America
40The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust$8,313,588,000North America
41University of Pittsburgh$8,011,856,000North America
42Nature Conservancy$7,870,380,000North America
43University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation$7,329,730,000North America
44University of Rochester$7,149,025,000North America
45Virginia Commonwealth University$6,985,495,306North America
46Purdue University$6,755,500,000North America
47University of Miami$6,582,600,000North America
48University of Minnesota$6,304,508,000North America
49Caltech Investment Office$6,252,584,000North America
50Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City$5,588,554,000North America

The largest endowment fund, Ensign Peak Advisors, is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and manages the assets for the Mormon Church (officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The church itself has over 16 million members worldwide and is the fourth largest church in America.

The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) is a national research and development agency that plays a core role in promoting technology, innovation, and science within society. In 1995, Japan’s government passed the Science and Technology Basic Plan and the JST came to life and now has over $80 billion in assets as well as offices in Paris, Washington, Singapore, and Beijing.

Just two funds come from the Middle East. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) with $23.5 billion and the General Authority of Awqaf. KAUST is ranked 95th amongst universities in the world and made history in the country by being Saudi Arabia’s first mixed-gender university.

The General Authority of Awqaf has $11 billion in assets and was established as a public authority to manage endowments and enhance Saudi Arabia’s various goals for societal development. “Awqaf” in Arabic loosely translates to assets that are donated or purchased for general or specific charitable causes that are socially beneficial.

On the environmental side is the Nature Conservancy, which has $7.8 billion in assets. The charity is estimated to have protected more than 100 million acres of land.

American Universities Dominate

Universities are one leading category from the world of endowment funds, particularly those from the United States. In fact, universities make up 39 of the top 50 endowment funds, with 35 of them based in America.

Historically, Harvard has been the largest, but Stanford has edged ahead in recent years. Stanford has $75 billion in assets compared to Harvard’s $73 billion. These vast amounts of money have not gone unnoticed, and elite universities are facing mounting criticism in some circles.

“When Harvard’s total admitted freshman class is 1,400 people—and they have an endowment that is the GDP of El Salvador—they’re not a nonprofit, they’re a hedge fund educating the children of their investors.” – Professor Scott Galloway

With student debt rising to $1.6 trillion, it’s likely these universities may face greater criticism around how they use the wealth available to them in endowment funds.

Sizable Influence

The top endowment funds carry considerable influence within the world of finance. While they all have billions to invest, each has very different objectives and intentions on how to deploy their capital.

And despite being non-profit organizations, endowment funds are seeing their overall assets exceed those held by many other investment funds, such as sovereign wealth funds, hedge funds, and private equity firms.

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