About Simons Foundation

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 without specific application in mind.

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.

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, five Simons Collaborations have been launched in and across mathematics, physics and the life sciences. The Simons Center for Data Analysis similarly functions to unite scientists, usually across disciplines, for collaboration.

You may access our online annual report here, or download past annual reports here.

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. The division’s primary programs are Simons Investigators, Simons Fellows, and Collaboration Grants for Mathematicians. Support for institutions is provided via the Math+X: Encouraging Interactions program and the Targeted Grants to Institutes program. MPS also supports the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at the University of California, Berkeley.

A new initiative is the MPS Simons Collaborations program, which enables teams of scientists to make progress on fundamental scientific questions of major importance in the broad areas of mathematics, physics, and computer science.

To learn more, please visit our MPS home page.

Life Sciences

The mission of the Simons Foundation division of Life Sciences is to advance basic research in the life sciences.

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.

Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI)

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. Launched in 2003, SFARI is a scientific initiative within the Simons Foundation’s suite of programs and is its only program focusing on the science underlying a medical condition.

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 $65 million per year, SFARI supports 175 investigators and since its launch has provided or committed more than $362 million in external research support to more than 250 investigators in the U.S. and abroad.

SFARI now offers annual Research Awards and Pilot 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:

  • SFARI.org, SFARI’s online hub and a venue for editorially independent news and opinion on autism research;
  • Simons Simplex Collection (SSC), which contains extensive genetic and phenotypic data from nearly 3,000 families with a child affected by autism;
  • SFARI Gene, an online autism genetics database;
  • SFARI Base, which provides access to SSC data and data from the Simons Variation in Individuals Project, a project exploring the phenotypes of individuals carrying highly penetrant recurrent genomic events identified in the SSC, such as deletions and duplications of chromosomal region 16p11.2.
  • Autism BrainNet, launched in 2014 in collaboration with the science and advocacy organization Autism Speaks and the Autism Science Foundation, which aims to provide scientists with well-characterized, high-quality brain tissue for study; and
  • Mouse models of autism are available to the scientific community through a partnership with The Jackson Laboratory.

Simons Center for Data Analysis

New experimental techniques in many fields of science are creating enormous amounts of raw, complex and often noisy data. Scientists’ ability to cope with this influx of information, however, has not kept pace. The Simons Center for Data Analysis (SCDA) was formed in 2013 with the purpose of developing innovative methods for examining such large datasets. It aims to address the unsolved mathematical, statistical and computational questions whose resolution will illuminate the underlying science. While SCDA intends to collaborate with researchers across multiple disciplines, its initial focus will be on genomics and neuroscience. The center is particularly interested in problems that present important long-term, systematic mathematical and computational challenges.

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.

For more information on the Simons Foundation’s activity, please read or download our Annual Report.