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James Simons, wife, donate $25M to Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University announced that hedge fund founder

Stony Brook University announced that hedge fund founder James Simons and his wife, Marilyn, have donated $25 million to boost research in physicists and mathematicians. This photo is from Dec. 14, 2011. Credit: Randee Daddona

Stony Brook University has received $25 million from hedge fund founder James Simons and his wife, Marilyn, to boost research by physicists and mathematicians into how the universe works, the school announced Tuesday.

The Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, founded in 2008, brings together experts from those fields to collaborate on researching string theory or quantifying gravity.

"Throughout history, much of the most important work in physics -- from Archimedes to Newton to Einstein -- has been deeply intertwined with the geometric side of mathematics," Jim Simons said in a statement. "With the advent of such areas as quantum field theory and string theory, developments in geometry and physics have become if anything more interrelated."

The center's programs and workshops tap experts from around the world to try to solve mysteries that overlap physics and geometry.

"These are questions that have been understood to be fundamental for more than 50 years, and progress has been slow," Simons Center director John Morgan said in an email. The center's advances include helping to establish the foundations of a modern form of geometry called symplectic geometry, he said.

Simons, who this year was named a member of the National Academy of Science, became a billionaire by applying his mathematical talents to finance, establishing Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket.

Simons has said the university rescued him when it hired him to chair its mathematics department in 1968, after a Vietnam War protest cost him another job. He held the post until 1976.

The couple now has given the center a total of $105 million. The latest gift will replenish its endowment, help maintain the building and support its activities, including a gallery where the public can view art that has a scientific aspect, said Stony Brook's president, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

"To recruit astounding people requires significant investment," he said.

This year, Sir Simon Donaldson, a professor at the center and at the Imperial College in London, won the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics.

The center plans to hire six professors, for a total of 10. It also has 12 postdoctoral scholars.To broaden the public's understanding of its theoretical research, it offers lectures by leading scientists, who also address interested high school students.

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