Simons Foundation: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: The Simons Foundation, started by retired hedge funder and math genius Jim Simons and his wife Marilyn, is one of the country’s largest foundations devoted entirely to science and math research. Simons funds autism research, the life sciences, physics and math theoreticians, and the study of ocean microbial ecosystems.

IP TAKE: Simons prioritizes autism research, but it also supports more theoretical science and math research. Simons offers hundreds of grants and is accessible for grantseekers via rotating requests for applications.

PROFILE:  The Simons Foundation is one of the largest science grantmakers in the country. The foundation seeks to “advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences” and supports “basic—or discovery driven—scientific research undertaken in the pursuit of understanding the phenomena of our world.” Every year Simons awards tens of millions of dollars to science research, STEM education, institutional grants, and individual scientist/investigator fellowships working within or in conjunction with large universities in the United States.

The Simons Foundation divides its grantmaking into four main categories: Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Autism Research (through the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative), and Outreach and education. The Simons Collaborations seek to support work that pulls together multiple disciplines, such as applying quantitative fields to the more profound problems in biology.

In Mathematics and Physical Sciences, opportunities include fellowships, awards for grad students, and travel grants. One of the foundation's major programs, for example, is the Simons Investigators award in mathematics, physics, and computer science. Through this award, talented, mid-career researchers are funded for five years at $100,000 a year, with another $10,000 per year going to the investigator’s department. There are also collaboration grants available for research teams working in various specified areas. Simons also makes up to three targeted grants to institutions annually, lasting three to five years at up to $200,000 per year.

Funding for Life Sciences, meanwhile, often funds interdisciplinary projects to “advance basic research in the life sciences.” In this area, Simons provides grants for initiatives such as the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain, the Origins of Life initiative (focused on astrophysics and chemistry), and the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE). These collaborations typically support a large team of investigators collaborating on a problem, along with younger fellows. There are some other competitive grants as well, including grants for life science projects, a fellowship program for neurosciences, and a fellowship in life sciences.

Additionally, Simons is a major supporter of autism research through the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). This multi-million-dollar program offers Research Awards for more established researchers further into their research projects or engaging in multi-laboratory collaboration, Pilot Awards for investigators “new to the field” who are conducting preliminary or smaller-scale research, Explorer Awards for exploratory projects, and Bridge to Independence Awards for senior postdocs looking to move into tenure-track professorships. It also serves as a conduit for information, resources, and data about autism research for both the public and other researchers.

Lastly, Simons funds Outreach & Education initiatives that “disseminat[e] scientific knowledge” and “promot[e] opportunities for learning science and math concepts.” Grants in this area support Science Sandbox, which works to develop an interest in science among those who are not “science enthusiasts,” Simons Foundation Lectures, which enable scientists and mathematicians to present their work to the public, and Math for America, which supports math and science teachers.

The Simons Foundation also funds the Flatiron Institute, which promotes “scientific research through computational methods.”

While Simons provides information about its current and past grantees, this information does not appear to be centralized in a single searchable location.  Instead, some digging is required to find more information about current and past awards in its Mathematics and Physical Sciences (individual and institutional recipients are listed separately), Life Sciences (found by clicking on each sub-program under the Awards heading of the Life Sciences page), and Autism Research programs (click here to see a list of current investigators and here for past grantees). To stay up-to-date on new invitations and application deadlines, check the Funding Opportunities page. The foundation’s Policies and Procedures page also provides detailed explanations of eligibility requirements and grant terms and conditions.

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