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 gives uniquely large amounts to autism research, but also to physics and math theoreticians, and to the life sciences. A recent initiative is studying ocean microbial ecosystems.

IP TAKE: Simons is pouring funds into autism research, but is also known for its huge and unusually hands-off support for more theoretical science and math research. Two great things about Simons—it offers hundreds of grants and is wide open to new grantees via rotating requests for applications.

PROFILE:  Since amassing a multi-billion dollar fortune, Jim Simons has become one of the country's biggest science philanthropists. Simons and wife Marilyn in 2010 joined the Giving Pledge to donate what they describe as the "great majority" of their wealth in their lifetimes, and the Simons Foundation is one of the largest science grantmakers in the country.

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. Grant awards can range from as little as several thousand dollars to upwards of $2 million. This number can reach even higher when Simons is supporting the establishment of new departments or institutes at high-profile universities.

The Simons Foundation divides its grantmaking into three main categories: Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and its Autism Research Initiative. In many cases, it's looking to support work that is pulling 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, is often for interdisciplinary projects to “advance basic research in the life sciences.” In this realm, Simons is providing boosts 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 awards as well, including awards for life science projects, a fellowship program for neurosciences, and a fellowship in life sciences.

Lastly, 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.

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). Simons also maintains a list of “funded institutions,” but this page does not detail the specifics of each organization’s relationship to the foundation.

In short, this is a funder to watch very closely. 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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