James and Marilyn Simons

NET WORTH: $18 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Renaissance Technologies Corporation

FUNDING AREAS:  Education and Research in mathematics, Physical and Life Sciences, Autism Research

OVERVIEW: A lifelong scientist, Jim Simons focuses most of his philanthropy in research in several scientific fields and on STEM education. He's actually busier than ever, remaining "non-executive Chairman and a visionary for the [hedge fund's] direction" and heading the Simons Foundation, Nick Simons Institute, and non-profit Math for America. He is also a private benefactor for scientists and mathematicians.

BACKGROUND: James Simons was a math prodigy, completing his PhD in Philosophy of Mathematics from UC Berkeley at the tender age of 23. He was a code cracker for the defense department and taught at MIT and Harvard before becoming chair of the math department at Stony Brook University. In 1974 he and colleague Shiing-Shen Chern published research that would orginate the Chern-Simons form, an important theory impacting theoretical physics to this day.  When he left academia in 1978, he had more than enough know-how to create computer-based mathematical models to analyze and execute trades in mere seconds. Renaissance Technologies has been the quant fund forerunner ever since, and the Medallion Fund is the unmistakable feather in its cap.


SCIENCE: The foundation's Mathematics and Physical Sciences funds are primarily earmarked for theoretical computer science and theoretical physics, while the Life Sciences supports "research that promotes new synergy between the 'hard sciences' and biology." Recently the foundation has also starting funding brain research, as well as marine conservation. As of early 2016, Simons pledged $80 million to the New York Genome Center, agreeing to match gifts up to a total of $100 million over the next three years.

AUTISM: The foundation's Autism Research Initiative aims to create better research in autism spectrum disorders to improve diagnosis and treatment. Simons personally meets with experts in each field and seeks out the best individuals and programs to fund.

MATH EDUCATION: Math for America (MfA) is a pet project that takes place under the Simon's Foundation's Education & Outreach program. Its mission is "to improve mathematics and science education in US public secondary schools by building a corps of outstanding STEM teachers and school leaders." MfA offers a range of teaching fellowships and professional development opportunities for STEM teachers at all levels of their careers. It has also contributed to legislation on public teaching and education. The nonprofit aims to be a national education model and give students nation-wide the best possible math and science teaching.

LOOKING FORWARD: Recently, Simons has branched out with a new initiative to research oceans as well as a big education give in Harlem. Simons has made just about every list there is to make. He is one of Forbes top-100 richest people in the world, and Bloomberg Markets Magazine named him one of the 50 Most Influential. He's also been called "the world's smartest billionaire," which is pretty hard to argue with. Visit the Simons Foundation website to watch a video of Simons speaking on his own mathematics career.


  • Marilyn Simons, Ph.D., President, Simons Foundation, 160 5th Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10010, (646) 654-0066