NET WORTH: $18 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Renaissance Technologies Corporation
FUNDING AREAS: Mathematics, Basic Sciences, Autism, Education
OVERVIEW: James and Marilyn Simons support research in mathematics, basic sciences and autism through the Simons Foundation. They also support K-12 math and science education in the U.S. through Math for America, a teacher development program.
BACKGROUND: James Simons earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley when he was 23 years old. He worked with the defense department and taught at MIT and Harvard before becoming chair of the math department at Stony Brook University. He left academia in 1978 to apply his expertise to finance and launched Rennaissance Technologies in 1982. Rennaissance was among the first funds to use quantitative models for trading. It remains one of the most successful funds in the history of investing.
MATHEMATICS: The Simons Foundation supports individuals and institutions that are “advancing the frontiers of research in mathematics.” One past individual grantee, Akshay Venkatesh, studies number theory at Stanford University. The foundation has also funded the American Institute of Mathematics and the Institute of Mathematics at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology.
BASIC SCIENCES: The foundation's supports basic research in several areas of science, including life sciences. In addition to supporting individuals and institutions, the foundation runs several internal research projects. The Flatiron Institute, one of the foundation’s internal research facilities, recently worked to create a “connectome” or “map of every neuron and synaptic connection” of the Megaphragma, a microscopic wasp.
AUTISM: The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative aims to “improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance.” While the foundation supports individuals and institutions in this area, most of awards are directed toward individual researchers. One recent grantee, the University of Washington’s Evan Eichler, used funding to pursue his research on the “structural variations and genetic architecture of autism.”
EDUCATION: James and Marilyn Simons established Math for America to support the development of high quality math and science teachers in New York City’s public schools. The organization implements fellowship programs for promising teachers who then create communities of professionals in their geographic areas. The program currently operates only in New York.
LOOKING FORWARD: James and Marilyn Simons are likely to continue their philanthropic work in the fields of research and education. While the Simons Foundation does not accept unsolicited requests for funding, it posts RFPs on its funding opportunities page.
Marilyn Simons, President
The Simons Foundation
160 5th Avenue, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10010