The Simons Foundation’s mission is to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences.
Cofounded in New York City by Jim and Marilyn Simons, the foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014.
The Simons Foundation at its core exists to support basic — or discovery-driven — scientific research, undertaken in pursuit of understanding the phenomena of our world.
The foundation’s support of scientists generally takes the form of direct grants to individual investigators and projects, through their academic institutions. The foundation makes grants in four areas: Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, autism research (SFARI) and Education & Outreach. In 2013 the foundation also launched an internal research division, the Simons Center for Data Analysis, now known as the Flatiron Institute.
The Simons Foundation seeks to create strong collaborations and foster cross-pollination of ideas between investigators, as these interactions often lead to unexpected breakthroughs and new understanding. In an effort to directly foster such interaction between scientists, in 2012 the foundation launched a new collaborative funding model, the Simons Collaborations, which bring funded investigators — sometimes from different disciplines — together to work on a timely and important problem. To date, 12 Simons Collaborations have been launched in and across mathematics, physics and the life sciences. The Flatiron Institute similarly functions to unite scientists, usually across disciplines, for collaboration.
Mathematics and the Physical Sciences (MPS)
The Simons Foundation Mathematics and Physical Sciences (MPS) division supports research in mathematics, theoretical physics and theoretical computer science.
The MPS division was established in 2010 and provides funding for individuals, institutions and science infrastructure. Programs that support individuals include the Simons Investigators program, which provides long-term research funding to outstanding scientists, the Simons Fellows program, which enables faculty to extend sabbaticals from one academic term to a full year, and the Collaboration Grants for Mathematicians, which provides funding for travel and visitors to mathematicians without other significant grant support. The foundation’s Targeted Grants to Institutes program enables established institutions to extend their mission in creative new ways and, also supports the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Simons Collaborations in MPS program, started in 2014, funds large scale, goal-driven projects that enable scientists to work together to address fundamental questions of major scientific importance.
To learn more, please visit the MPS home page.
The Simons Foundation division of Life Sciences seeks to advance basic research on fundamental questions in biology. The division currently focuses on origins of life, microbial oceanography, microbial ecology and evolution, and support of early career scientists.
In Spring 2013, the foundation’s Life Sciences division launched its first multi-institutional interdisciplinary program, the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life. Its goal is to advance our understanding of the processes that led to the emergence of life in the universe. This collaboration supports innovative research on the astrophysical and planetary context of the origins of life, the development of prebiotic chemistry, the assembly of the first cells, the advent of Darwinian evolution and early signs of life on Earth.
The Life Sciences division also launched the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain in Spring 2014. The collaboration supports projects that use new technologies to record the activity of large neural populations at single-cell resolution, in combination with mathematical analyses, to investigate how neural coding and dynamics represent and process information relevant to internal cognitive states and behavior. This collaboration encourages work between experimentalists and theorists.
The Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology, based at the University of Hawaii, will advance our understanding of the biology, ecology, and biogeochemistry of microbial processes that dominate Earth’s largest biome, the global ocean. Ocean microbes capture solar energy, catalyze key biogeochemical transformations of important elements, produce and consume greenhouse gases, and compose the base of the marine food web. This collaborative effort will focus on a model ecosystem site that is representative of a large portion of the North Pacific Ocean.
In addition to its collaborations, the division of Life Sciences from time to time grants project awards, which vary in focus from study of the social brain to understanding human genetic diversity.
The Life Sciences division also supports the Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Awards in the Neurosciences and postdoctoral fellowships in partnership with the Life Sciences Research Foundation, the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research, and the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation.
To find out more, please visit our Life Sciences pages.
Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI)
Launched in 2003, SFARI is a scientific initiative within the Simons Foundation’s suite of programs. SFARI’s mission is to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance.
In 2007, SFARI issued its first request for applications, its goal being to attract top researchers to the field of autism research. Today, with a budget of approximately $75 million per year, SFARI supports over 250 investigators and since its launch has provided or committed more than $380 million in external research support to more than 350 investigators in the U.S. and abroad.
SFARI now offers annual Pilot and Research Awards, as well as Explorer Awards, awarded on a rolling basis, all of which solicit applications for projects across all areas of autism science. From time to time, SFARI also offers targeted requests for applications, seeking to fund projects in a tightly defined area.
Additionally, to facilitate and drive research in the field as a whole, SFARI has created and supports several resources for autism scientists:
- Simons Simplex Collection (SSC), which contains extensive genetic and phenotypic data from nearly 3,000 families with a child affected by autism;
- Simons Variation in Individuals Project (Simons VIP), which aims to identify and study large numbers of individuals sharing recurrent genetic variants known to increase the risk of developing autism spectrum and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
- SPARK, an online research initiative that aims to recruit, engage and retain a community of 50,000 individuals with autism and their family members living in the U.S.
- SFARI Gene, an online autism genetics database;
- SFARI Base, which provides access to SSC and Simons VIP data;
- Data Analysis Tools, which support the visualization and analysis of SSC data;
- Autism BrainNet, launched in 2014 in collaboration with Autism Speaks, which aims to provide scientists with well-characterized, high-quality brain tissue for study; and
- Mouse models of autism, which are available to the scientific community through a partnership with The Jackson Laboratory.
- Rat models of autism, which are available to the scientific community through a partnership with The Medical College of Wisconsin.
- Induced pluripotent stem cell lines from SSC and Simons VIP participants.
The mission of the Flatiron Institute is to advance scientific research through computational methods, including data analysis, modeling and simulation.
The institute, an internal research division of the Simons Foundation, is a community of scientists who are working to use modern computational tools to advance our understanding of science, both through the analysis of large, rich datasets and through the simulations of physical process.
New experimental techniques in many fields of study are creating enormous amounts of raw, complex, and often noisy, data. Scientists’ standard methodologies, however, are often inadequate to the task of analyzing them. The development of new methods and software to learn from data and to model — at sufficient resolution — the complex processes they reflect is now a pressing concern in the scientific community. At the same time, advances in computation enable advanced simulations that capture rich non-linear, and often time-dependent, processes. These simulations demand increased sophistication in scientific technique, algorithms and computational methods.
The Simons Foundation launched the Flatiron Institute (FI) to address these challenges. The FI will provide a permanent home to physicists, biologists, computational scientists, data scientists and collaborating programmers working together to create, deploy and support new state-of-the-art computational methods. The institute aims to address unsolved mathematical, statistical and computational questions whose resolution will illuminate the underlying science. The institute is particularly interested in problems that present important long-term, systematic mathematical and computational challenges. The institute will hold conferences and meetings, and aims to serve as a focal point for computational science around the world.
The institute currently comprises the Center for Computational Biology (CCB), launched in 2013 as the Simons Center for Data Analysis, and the Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA), launched in 2016. CCB consists of five subgroups working on biophysical modeling, genomics, neuroscience, numerical algorithms and systems biology, and CCA currently supports subgroups in galaxy formation and statistical astronomy. CCA will likely add groups in fields such as high-energy astrophysics, cosmology, planetary atmospheres and planet formation.
To learn more, please visit our Flatiron Institute home page.
Education & Outreach
The Simons Foundation’s Education & Outreach programs seek to stimulate a deeper interest and understanding of science and mathematics among students, professionals and the interested public. Our education initiative, namely, Math for America, focuses on reaching secondary school students with a corps of outstanding STEM teachers and leaders in U.S. public schools. Foundation outreach programs aim to connect outstanding scientists with the general public, communicating the excitement of science and providing opportunities for discourse on emerging or important scientific topics of our times.
To find out more, please visit our Education and Outreach pages.
For more information on the Simons Foundation’s activity, please read or download our Annual Report.
The Informatics Group manages the foundation’s many and expanding scientific and administrative data assets. The group includes individuals with backgrounds in technology, software development, data analysis, bioinformatics and computational biology. Informatics provides guidance to some of the foundation’s data-intensive research grants and, importantly, advances the foundation’s commitment to open sharing of information. Group members regularly collaborate on research projects with SFARI and the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Biology, as well as with external investigators. Internally, they assist the foundation’s grants administration groups.
A list of Informatics Group members can be found here.