Kavli died at his Santa Barbara home from cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer, the Los Angeles times reported.
He was 86.
His foundation awards $1-million cash prizes to spark cutting-edge research and promote science for the benefit of humanity. Awards are made every 2 years in the field of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.
"This is a painful loss for the foundation and for all of science," Rockell N. Hankin, vice chairman of the foundation, said in a statement. "We can only take comfort in his extraordinary legacy, which will continue advancing critically important research that benefits all of humanity, and supports scientific work around the globe."
A naturalized U.S. citizen, Kavli was born 1927 in Eresfjord, Norway.
In 1955, after receiving an engineering degree, he moved to Canada and later to the United States, settling in Southern California and staring his Kavlico Corp. in 1958, which became a major supplier of sensors for aeronautical, automotive and industrial applications.
He is survived by two children and nine nephews and nieces.