Mathematician, investor, and science philanthropist Jim Simons dead at 86

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Carnegie Science pays tribute to Jim Simons whose work shaped the research enterprise in myriad ways: as a mathematician, as a philanthropist, and as a champion for basic science.
Equations on chalkboard
Jim Simons courtesy of the Simons Foundation

Washington, D.C.—Award-winning mathematician, legendary investor, and celebrated philanthropist Jim Simons died at 86 from unspecified causes, his namesake Simons Foundation announced Friday.

During his years heading up the mathematics department at Stony Brook University, Simons pursued cutting-edge pattern recognition research and developed theories—including a critical framework called the Chern-Simons Field theory—that were foundational to the then-emerging field of string theory as well as in condensed matter physics for describing correlated electronic behavior such as the Fractional Quantum Hall Effect.

In the early 1980s, Simons left academia to establish a hedge fund that deployed mathematical tools to identify investment opportunities—inventing the concept of quantitative trading. Renaissance Technologies went on to become one of the most profitable investment firms in history.

He took these record-setting gains and established the Simons Foundation in 1994, which has provided billions of dollars in philanthropic support to math, health science education, as well as basic science research.

The Flatiron Institute, a research division of the foundation, is dedicated to advancing scientific research through computational methods, including data analysis, modeling, and simulation. Like Carnegie, the Flatiron Institute provides sustained support for scientists as they follow the path of curiosity and work to answer big questions about life and the nature of the universe. The Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics has hired three of our astronomers from Carnegie Science’s Observatories.

“Jim’s contributions to science and society were enormous, almost beyond measuring,” said Carnegie Science President Eric D. Isaacs. “Many people are lucky if they can say they made a lasting impact in a single professional endeavor, but over the course of his storied career, Jim fundamentally changed mathematics, physics, investing, and philanthropy.”

Simons had a long history with Carnegie Science, dating back to his friendship with President Emerita Maxine Singer, with whom he established Math for America D.C. in 2008. The foundation also supported an astrophysical theory symposia series and has funded several early career researchers in marine microbial ecology.

Simons Foundation President David Spergel has been on Carnegie’s Board of Trustees since 2022, further cementing the relationship between the two organizations.

“Jim was an exceptional leader who did transformative work in mathematics and developed a world-leading investment company,” Spergel said in a statement. “Together with Marilyn Simons, the current Simons Foundation board chair, Jim created an organization that has already had enormous impact in mathematics, basic science and our understanding of autism. The Simons Foundation, an in-perpetuity foundation, will carry their vision for philanthropy into the future.”