21 Math and Science Scholars Celebrate Christmas in July, Compliments of the Simons Foundation

The Simons Foundation released its list of "Simons Investigator" grant recipients today. In the first year of the program, the foundation designated five scholars for the distinction who work in the fields of theoretical computer science, nine theoretical physicists, and seven mathematicians: a total of 21. A full list is available on the foundation's site. (See Simons Foundation: Grants for Science Research).

"Investigators" qualify for an annual stipend of $100,000 and an additional $32,000 that goes to their university. The fellows and their departments come under review after five years; they can potentially rack up as much as $1.32 million if they qualify. Many recipients have already announced that they will use the money to hire post-doc and graduate student assistants.

Among the recipients were:

  • The University of Utah's Chris Hacon, a specialist in algebraic geometry. Hacon's research deals with "complex projective varieties," which are equations that describe the behaviors of shapes with more than three dimensions. Questions involving these equations date back nearly two centuries.
  • An MIT computer science engineer named Shafi Goldwasser and two MIT mathematicians, Alice Guionnet and Paul Siedel.
  • Two theoretical physicists at Caltech: Hirosi Ooguri and Chris Hirata. Oogusi is a professor of theoretical physics and mathematics as well as a deputy chair in their Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. He researches string theory and its relationship to gravity. Hirata, an astrophysicist, publishes research that makes an "important impact on precision cosmology," according to the Simons Foundation website.
  • Another astrophysicist, Eliot Quataert, of UC Berkeley. Quataert studies plasma and gas clouds, particularly on how they behave in close proximity to stars and black holes.

Along several of the other recipients, Quataert praised the flexibility that the Simons Foundation's grant allows. Open-ended money provides theorists the opportunity to trust their intuitions and pursue problems before they can properly articulate what the world stands to gain from solving them. In an academic environment that increasingly champions "application" and "results" to the exclusion of anything else, the money from the Simons Foundation provides a unique and much welcomed respite for scholars who tend to explore rather than solve problems. (Read Simons Math and Physical Sciences director, Yuri Tschinkel's IP profile).

Where will the financial lightning of The Simons Foundation strike next? Those asking the biggest, most difficult questions in the fields of physics, math and computer sciences are the Franklin rods.

According to their site, The Simons Foundation chooses Simons Investigators grants from a pool of applications they receive over the course of each year. The next drawing will occur January 15, 2013. Applicants do not need tenure, but the foundation does not consider adjunct faculty for the award, generally. To apply for the grant, applicants must register and login to ProposalCENTRAL.