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Remembering Jim Simons

The Simons Foundation has provided more than $142 million to UC San Diego to advance basic science research and establish the Simons Observatory in Chile

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James “Jim” Simons, co-founder of the Simons Foundation, renowned mathematician and quantitative investing leader, died on May 10 in New York City. He was 86.

Jim Simons and his wife, Marilyn, established the Simons Foundation in 1994 with the goal of supporting scientists and organizations worldwide in advancing the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences.

The Simons Foundation has provided more than $142 million to the University of California San Diego. The foundation established the Simons Observatory in Atacama, Chile, where UC San Diego astrophysicists are leading the effort to better understand conditions of the universe during the first few moments after its inception.

Image of five people, including Jim and Marilyn Simons, with shovels in the Atacama desert of Chile
At right, Jim and Marilyn Simons at the groundbreaking of Simons Observatory, with researchers involved in the project, from left, Adrian Lee (UC Berkeley), David Spergel (Princeton University) and Brian Keating (UC San Diego).

In addition, the foundation has dedicated funding to cutting-edge sciences across the UC San Diego campus, including autism research, engineering, mathematical and biological sciences, psychiatry, neuroscience, and the San Diego Supercomputer Center. It has also provided support for graduate students and investigators at UC San Diego.

“We are saddened by the loss of Jim Simons,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “He was a trailblazer in academia, the financial industry and philanthropy. His visionary generosity has helped pave the way for us to better understand the universe and advance research in medicine, engineering and more. Jim has left an indelible impact here at UC San Diego, and around the globe. For that we are so grateful.”

In recognition of Jim and Marilyn Simons’ generosity to UC San Diego, the couple received the Chancellor’s Medal in 2018. The Chancellor’s Medal is one of the highest honors given by UC San Diego for exceptional service in support of the university’s mission.

Simons previously chaired the math department at Stony Brook University in New York, and his mathematical breakthroughs, including work on Chern-Simons theory, are now instrumental to fields such as string theory, topology and condensed matter physics.

In 1978, Simons founded what would become Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that pioneered quantitative trading and became one of the most profitable investment firms in history. He then turned his focus to making a difference in the world through the Simons Foundation.

“Jim’s accomplishments as a hedge fund pioneer, as incomparable as they are, are dwarfed and eclipsed by his contributions to science and society. Only a scientist with peerless vision like Jim could perceive and steward such a vast fortune for the benefit of all humanity,” said Brian Keating, Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor of Physics at UC San Diego. “I will miss him terribly, but I think of him every time I gaze up at the cosmos that he helped us all understand better.”

With a strong belief in the promise of basic science research, Simons supported many varied areas on campus, including autism studies.

“Jim and Marilyn Simons have had an instrumental role in advancing autism research over the past two decades,” said Jonathan Sebat, professor of psychiatry and cellular and molecular medicine, and director of the Beyster Center for Psychiatric Genomics at UC San Diego. “Their philanthropy funded some of the earliest breakthroughs in the genetics of autism, and their foundation now supports investigators at UC San Diego and around the world doing a wide range of studies in basic neuroscience, psychiatry and in the development of new interventions aimed at improving the lives of autistic people.”

Jim Simons is survived by his wife, three children, five grandchildren, a great-grandchild, and according to the Simons Foundation, “countless colleagues, friends and family who fondly recall his genuine curiosity and quick wit.”

Marilyn and Jim Simons received the Chancellor's Medal from UC San Diego in 2018.

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