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Stony Brook University Announces $60 Million Gift From Renowned Financier And Former Math Chair James Simons And Wife Marilyn, A Ph.D. Alumna

Feb 26, 2008 - 4:31:03 PM

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MANHATTAN AND STONY BROOK, NY, February 27, 2008 – Dr. Jim Simons, the prominent financier and mathematician who, as chairperson, built Stony Brook University’s Mathematics
Department into one of the top-ranked in the nation, and his wife Marilyn, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University and is president of the Simons Foundation, announced today that the Foundation is donating $60 million to Stony Brook – the largest gift in its history. It is also the largest gift ever given to any one of the 64 institutions in the State University of New York system. 

The gift was announced at a press conference at Stony Brook’s Manhattan satellite campus. It will be used to construct and then endow the “Simons Center for Geometry and Physics” on Stony Brook’s main campus on Long Island. In addition to funding the building’s construction, the gift will be used to recruit and retain the highest quality faculty, provide enhanced training and support for graduate students, support research programs, secure visiting scholars – up to 30 at a time – and sponsor workshops and conferences, among other initiatives.

In fact, at the press conference, it was also announced that the Center has already scored a recruiting coup, by luring the internationally-renowned string theorist Dr. Michael R. Douglas from Rutgers University, where he is a professor and director of the New High Energy Theory Center. Dr. Douglas, who was instrumental in the development of the first solvable models of string theory and its relations to particle physics and mathematics, is a native of Stony Brook whose father Ronald G. Douglas was a member of the SBU math faculty for many years under Dr. Simons and then worked in the University’s administration.

The gift – a defining moment of Stony Brook’s 50th anniversary year – comes on the heels of Gov. Spitzer’s commitment to position Stony Brook, through philanthropic support and collaboration between the public and private sectors, as a “flagship” of the SUNY system that would rival the nation’s most prestigious state-supported research universities.

“I can’t imagine a more extraordinary 50th anniversary gift,” said Stony Brook President Shirley Strum Kenny. “Jim and Marilyn Simons are people of remarkable vision. They truly understand the critical need for support of education, particularly in science and mathematics, in America. Their generosity paves the way for Stony Brook to explore new frontiers in education and research, now and in the future. The Simons Center will further our tradition of excellence, and ensure that Stony Brook stands as a world center for research in math and physics.”

“Marilyn and I are delighted to make this gift to the University,” said Jim Simons. “From Archimedes to Newton to Einstein, much of the most profound work in physics has been deeply intertwined with the geometric side of mathematics. Since then, in particular with the advent of such areas as quantum field theory and string theory, developments in geometry and physics have become if anything more interrelated. The new Center will give many of the world's best mathematicians and physicists the opportunity to work and interact in an environment and an architecture carefully designed to enhance progress. We believe there is a chance that work accomplished at the Center will significantly change and deepen our understanding of the physical universe and of its basic mathematical structure.”

“Since the 1920s, physicists have believed that the real world is described more accurately by quantum theory than by classical physics based on Newton’s calculus of forces,” explained Dr. Dennis Sullivan, professor of mathematics at Stony Brook and National Medal of Science recipient. “It is becoming apparent that something like this is also at least partly true for the world of mathematics. In the 1990s, the celebrated Russian mathematician Yuri Manin went so far as to predict that the 21st century will be remembered as the century of the quantization of mathematics.

“What has happened is a series of uncanny events in mathematics,” the discovery of phenomena which are very natural to the physicists – quantum theorists and string theorists – who found them, but quite uncanny to mathematicians,” Dr. Sullivan said. “The concepts of language have not kept up with the phenomena. It is well know that this is true in physics, where mathematical models, combining calculus and geometry, used so successfully by Einstein and by much of 20th century science have not been sufficiently enriched to express the physical reality implicit in quantum theory. But it holds in mathematics as well.

“The formation of the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, and its location at Stony Brook, is a natural product of the scientific activity referred to in Manin’s prediction,” he said. “Several of the uncanny discoveries were inextricably intertwined with the Chern-Simons formula, discovered by Jim Simons and the great differential geometer S.S. Chern, and they took place in a physical-mathematical context that had been to some extent redirected by the interaction between Jim Simons and C.N. Yang (Dr. Chen Ning Yang, Einstein Professor and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics) in the 1970s at Stony Brook.”

“This exciting synergy between mathematics and physics in a variety of areas has accelerated in the years since then,” said Dr. Martin Rocek, professor at the C. N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook, who cited such examples as the discovery of supergravity at the Institute, and the revolutionary development of string theory.”

Dr. Sullivan said the “uncanny” events are expected to continue. Understanding them and their physical and mathematical implications, and building a new mathematical language that can conceptualize them, will involve the collaboration of the most talented scientists from both fields. Contributing to this 21st century enrichment promises to be one of the principal activities of the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics.

According to Dr. George Sterman, professor of physics and director of the Yang Institute, the Center results from extensive thought, strategy, and planning with faculty, department chairs, and others, including Dr. Cumrum Vafa of Harvard, who directs the Simons Foundation-supported summer institutes on string theory at Stony Brook, and former mentor and longtime friend Dr. Isadore Singer of MIT, recent winner of the prestigious Abel Prize in Mathematics.

Dr. Simons was Chair of Stony Brook’s Department of Mathematics from 1968 to 1976, and was largely responsible for shaping its reputation as one of the best departments of its kind in the nation. During his tenure, he and Dr. Yang led a historic series of inter-disciplinary seminars, which helped open a new chapter in the synergy between physic and mathematics.

Dr. Simons is president of Renaissance Technologies LLC, a private investment firm located in East Setauket, NY. His wife Marilyn has served since 1994 as president of the Simons Foundation, a charitable organization supporting researchers and institutions conducting advanced work in the basic sciences and mathematics, with a major emphasis on autism.

At Stony Brook, the Simons Family and Foundation have provided more than $85 million in contributions to support a number of academic initiatives, including summer institutes on string theory, workshops and a lecture series related to math and physics. In 2006, in the wake of federal funding cuts, the Foundation and a group of private donors from Renaissance Technologies made a $13 million contribution to maintain operations at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Brookhaven is co-managed by Stony Brook.

“The Simons Foundation’s generosity, support and vision have for years been a contributing factor to the success of Stony Brook University and the SUNY System,” said Interim SUNY Chancellor John B. Clark. “This latest contribution will enhance the many successful programs underway at Stony Brook University, which employs one out of every seven SUNY faculty, statewide, and is one of the most prestigious research centers in the nation."

The Simons gift comes as Stony Brook is conducting its $300 million capital campaign, “The Emergence of Stony Brook,” the first in the University’s history. The gift increases the total raised so far to over $260 million.

“Jim and Marilyn Simons have been a driving force in Stony Brook's success for many decades,” said Richard L. Gelfond, Chair of the Stony Brook Foundation Board. “Their passion and commitment are infectious. Their extraordinarily generous gift will help continue the climb of Stony Brook in the ranks of the elite institutions of the world.”

Part of the State University of New York system, Stony Brook now encompasses 123 buildings on 1,100 acres. In the nearly fifty years since its founding, the University has grown tremendously, now with more than 22,000 students and 1,900 faculty, and is recognized as one of the nation’s important centers of learning and scholarship. It is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, the invitation-only organization of the best research universities in the country, and has been listed as one of the best universities in the world by the London Times.

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© Stony Brook University 2013

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