Healy Hall tower at Georgetown University on May 1, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

An anonymous donor is giving Georgetown University $20 million to support a major initiative for the study of the environment, school officials say.

The gift, announced last week, will endow three faculty chairs in the sciences, fund research grant proposals and support the creation of an environment initiative program center.

Bart Moore, the university’s vice president of advancement, said the donor is “a longtime member of the Georgetown community with multiple family connections to the university.” Moore said the donor is “fastidiously private” about philanthropy.

The largest gift to Georgetown, Moore said, was a $90 million donation from the Toulmin family, announced in 2010, to fund medical research.

Moore said the new gift “is the result of an extended and very substantive process of collaboration between the faculty, our academic leadership and the donor.”

Three quarters of the donation, or $15 million, will fund the three faculty chairs.

The professors hired through that endowment, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said in the announcement, will be “leaders in their fields” who have a record of “interdisciplinary research in the environment.”

Throughout academia, interdisciplinary research is getting heightened attention these days from university leaders who want to break down barriers to cooperation. The barriers are inherent in a traditional university model organized around schools and departments. Those academic units often function as silos, isolating researchers.

Georgetown officials said the $20 million gift will draw together researchers with common interest in the environment who happen to have expertise in various fields, such as biology, economics, law and public policy, among others. It accelerates an initiative that has been underway since 2009.

“The gift is tremendously exciting,” said Matthew B. Hamilton, an associate professor of biology who is faculty director of the initiative. “It really is going to open quite a number of doors for us.” Hamilton said the gift will enable Georgetown to elevate its environment initiative to the level of prominent efforts underway at universities such as Arizona State, Duke and Yale.