Jim Simons: The Brightest Billionaire

Jim Simons: The Brightest Billionaire

Jim Simons is an American mathematician, CEO, and philanthropist. Simons is the founder of Renaissance Technologies LLC, an investment management firm controlling over $60 billion,  and of the Simons Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds education, outreach, and research in mathematics and the natural sciences. 

Dr. Simons earned his PhD at the age of 23 from UC Berkeley under the guidance of Bertram Kostant. His thesis on holonomy systems broke ground in differential geometry and the Annals of Mathematics published a version of it [6]. At the age of 37, he won the American Mathematical Society’s Oswold Veblen Prize in Geometry. Simons most famous mathematical work is a 1980 paper coauthored with the celebrated mathematician S.S. Chern. Chern–Simons invariants are now fundamental in geometry, as well as in physics, and in number theory (see this recent quanta article on the work of Minhyong Kim).

Simons founded Renaissance Technologies LLC in 1982. The Medallion Fund, owned by Renaissance, is one of New York’s most successful hedge funds. They used quantitative analysis to make investment decisions long before it was the industry standard. Rather than hiring finance experts, Simons hired mathematicians, physicists, and cryptographers with no financial training. Their ability to reason to an abstract level made the Medallion Fund win out against companies operated by traditional Wall Street executives.

In 1994 Jim Simons and his wife Marilyn Simons established the Simons Foundation. The Simons Foundation funds exceptional work in mathematics, physics, the life sciences, and autism research. Additionally, it supports two independent online editorials: Quanta Magazine and Spectrum. Quanta Magazine reports advances in mathematics, physics, biology, and computer science. Spectrum provides news coverage of developments in autism research.

The Simons Foundation features high profile Simons Collaboration Grants. These projects consist in intensive collaborations among field leaders which last several years. Some ambitious ongoing collaborations are the  Simons Collaboration on The Origins of Life and the Simons Collaboration on Homological Mirror Symmetry.

Dr. Simons has founded several non-profit organizations. He is a great benefactor of mathematical education. Math for America, founded in 2004, seeks in improve mathematical education in primary and secondary schools in the United States.

He helped establish the National Museum of Mathematics (NMM), located on 26th Street in Manhattan, just a few blocks from the Simons Foundation. The NMM is a hub of public mathematical outreach and caters largely to children, stoking their curiosity in mathematics. Simons was one of the first on the Forbes List to sign the giving pledge—a promise to donate most of one’s wealth to charity.

The SCGP, Stony Brook NY.

The Simons Center for Geometry and Physics (SCGP) is a research institute on the Campus of Stony Brook University. The SGCP emphasizes interdisciplinary research and collaboration among pure mathematicians and theoretical physicists–a motif which characterizes the past fifty or so years of geometry and topology. SCGP staff includes legends such as Sir Simon Donaldson, Kenji Fukaya, and Nikita Nekrasov.

Simons himself returned to research mathematics in 2007,  coauthoring an important paper with Dennis Sullivan entitled “An Axiomatic Characterization of Differential Cohomology.” I can only hope to remain enamored of cohomological questions in my later life. As a young person working in mathematics, I find this totally uplifting.

The mathematical world is indebted to Professor Simons and his constant efforts to improve the quality of mathematics at all levels—from primary school education in developing countries to the grand vistas of 21st century symplectic geometry.


[1] Broad, W.J. Giver, Does, Seeker, Ponderer. Billionaire Mathematician’s Life of Ferocious Curiosity. New York Times, Web. 7 Jul. 2014.

[2] Kim, M. Arithmetic Chern-Simons Invariant I. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1510.05818.pdf 2016.

[3] Tindera, M. How Hedge Fund Billionaire James Simons is Changing Math Education. Forbes Magazine, Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

[4] Simons, J. and Chern, S.S. Characteristic Forms and Geomtric Invariants. 99 (1):48-49. January 1974.

[5] Simons, J. and Sullivan, D. An Axiomatic Characterization of Differential Cohomology. https://arxiv.org/abs/math/0701077 2007.

[6] Simons, J. On the transitivity of holonomy systems. Ann. of Math. 76 (1962), 213-234.

[7] About Jim and Marilyn Simons. The Simons Effect, Stony Brook Foundation. Web. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017. https://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/simonseffect/about/aboutsimons.html

About Jacob Gross

Jacob Gross is a graduate student in Geometry at Oxford University, working under the supervision of Dominic Joyce FRS, and supported by the Simons Collaboration on Special Holonomy in Geometry, Analysis, and Physics.
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One Response to Jim Simons: The Brightest Billionaire

  1. shashi kant says:

    Respect for him.

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