Daniel L. Goroff, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

TITLE: Vice President and Program Director

FUNDING AREAS: Economic institutions, behavior and performance; digital information technology; and Sloan Research Fellowships

CONTACT: goroff@sloan.org, 212-649-1676

IP TAKE: The accomplished mathematician has served as an award-winning educator, researcher, and adviser to the federal government. He now oversees three programs at Sloan, including the esteemed Sloan Research Fellowship.

PROFILE: For Daniel Goroff, one of the great beauties of working in science and mathematics is that people with opposing beliefs can start the day in heated argument and end the day having reached an agreement, ready to take on the next challenge together. When he told that to a congressman while testifying to the importance of funding the National Science Foundation, the lawmaker paused and responded, "Things work a little differently here in Washington."

Perhaps that's why Goroff decided to go into philanthropy after a lifetime in academia—to make certain that such forums for thought and debate persist. As a vice president and program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this brilliant mathematician and award-winning educator now oversees grants related to economics and information technology and the famed Sloan Research Fellowships.

Goroff was born in Boston and raised in New Jersey. At a young age he fell for the world of numbers, and he would later go on to pile up an impressive stack of related degrees at esteemed universities. He earned a bachelor's and a master's in mathematics at Harvard, a master's in economics at Cambridge, a master's in mathematical finance at Boston University, and a PhD in mathematics from Princeton.

For two decades, Goroff was a professor at Harvard, where he earned a reputation as a popular and creative educator while teaching math, econ, physics, history of science, and continuing education. He went on to teach at Harvey Mudd College, where he became the dean of faculty. In addition to his role at Sloan, he is currently a visiting professor at Columbia University.

Goroff's research has been and continues to be focused on nonlinear systems and chaos, specifically economic systems, games, and how decisions are made. He's developed his work on these matters in a number of visiting professorships around the world. Aside from his research interests, Goroff also has become a prominent voice on the science and engineering workforce in the United States, having coauthored a book on the subject. He also has written extensively about mathematics history, in particular Henri Poincaré, 20th century mathematician and source of inspiration for Goroff.

While the exchange with the congressman described above may seemed frustrating, Goroff must have a great deal of patience for politicians and their interactions with science. He has testified before Congress three times and served twice as an adviser to the White House. "You never know when they might ask you again, but they probably heard enough of me already," he recalled in an interview for Columbia University.

Now the bulk of Goroff's time is spent in New York working for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the $1.6 billion foundation that funds education and research in science, technology, and economics.

His programs cover three main areas: 

Economic Institutions, Behavior and Performance supports research on the U.S. economy that can inform government decisions in an educated and nonpartisan way.

The Digital Information Technology program looks at the public's engagement with knowledge, including computational research, scholarly research, and increasing access to knowledge.

Finally, Goroff oversees the Sloan Research Fellowships, the legendary awards given to promising scientists early in their careers. Since 1955, Sloan has awarded the two-year fellowships to more than 100 researchers a year, and a whopping 42 of the recipients have gone on to win Nobel Prizes in their fields. Most of the prizes go toward physics and chemistry, but also mathematics, biology, computer science, economics, ocean science and neuroscience. Big league research schools like Harvard, MIT and Stanford win the most Sloan Fellowships, but the last round hit more than 60 schools, so there are opportunities regardless of university. Nominations open in mid-July and the deadline is mid-September.

Having spent a career at the forefront of research, education, and the area where both interact with wider society,  Goroff is now in a distinguished position to give back in all of these fields through his work at Sloan. And while his career might suggest he's a buttoned-up type, Goroff is also an enthusiastic musician who plays the saxophone and rocked out in bands through college and high school. Then again, as any mathematician will testify, music is just math.