Simons Foundation: Grants for Marine & River Conservation

OVERVIEW: The Simons Foundation is one of the largest science research funders in the country, with a $2 billion trust. The foundation launched a huge program in 2014 to study the microbial ecosystems of the ocean and gain better understanding of carbon and energy processes in the ocean.

IP TAKE: Early and mid-career researchers working in marine biology should watch Simons like a hawk, as the foundation has only just begun doing bold things in this realm. 

PROFILE: The Simons Foundation has historically not been known for its work in oceans—or environmental science, for that matter—but when this funder finds an issue and locks onto it, it makes serious waves in the field. Take, for example, autism research. The Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute (SFARI) has become a force of nature since since the foundation started it. Now the philanthropy of James and Marilyn Simons is looking to make a similar impact in the world of oceanography, particularly the biology of marine microorganisms that play a profound role in the planet’s larger ecosystem.

The driving force behind the Simons Foundation is research of basic science, with an emphasis on tackling profound mysteries with both experimental and theoretical research. It’s known for making many grants, holding open calls for applications, and giving multi-year support for researchers without too many strings attached. With funding well over $100 million annually, it’s one of the most influential research foundations around.

Its ocean research program is called Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE), and its goal is to increase our understanding of how the ecosystems of microorganisms in the ocean interact, particularly the biological processes that control the transformation of matter and energy.

SCOPE weaves together multiple disciplines and lines of research, doing so on location in a representative sample of such an ecosystem, studying many levels of biology as they happen. The center is based at the University of Hawaii, conducting its research at Station ALOHA, a research-dedicated section of ocean about 60 miles north of Oahu, that is representative of a large part of the North Pacific Ocean. 

A total of eight founding science investigators are already in place with SCOPE, but the collaboration is only getting started. SCOPE is in the process of staffing up its larger group of investigators. The first request for applications in the summer of 2014 called for researchers to apply to become Simons Investigators, who receive up to $300,000 a year with a substantial amount of leeway. Those selected are funded for three years, with an opportunity to renew at the end of that term. To learn more about the current Investigators and projects, click here.

Scientists who apply must be on tenure track, tenured, or comparably established researchers, but Simons is most interested in funding early- or mid-career researchers. Other desired traits include high productivity, creativity and risk-taking, as well as a commitment to collaboration and participation at the ALOHA station in the North Pacific.