News From MSRI

June 12, 2007

"It's been an exciting week for me," David Eisenbud wrote in an e-mail message to SIAM News a few weeks ago. Nothing too surprising there: As described in the accompanying article, Eisenbud was an organizer of a recent high-profile, two-part event on climate change---one designed for a general audience and the other for scientists interested in mathematical modeling issues. And the name of his successor---he steps down on July 31 after ten years as director of MSRI---was about to be announced.

The excitement that Eisenbud was referring to, however, is related to an event of a different order altogether. On May 3, James Simons, president of Renaissance Technologies Corp., announced a $10 million gift from the Simons Foundation to MSRI; half of the amount would be used to establish the Eisenbud Professorship, for visiting professors at MSRI.

Readers may know of Simons for his selection as Financial Engineer of the Year (2006) by the International Association of Financial Engineers and SunGard. Expressing his gratitude at a February award ceremony, Simons pointed out that "awards like this serve to emphasize the increasing significance of quantitative methods within the world of finance." At Renaissance, a private investment firm, mathematical methods come into play in the management of the Medallion Fund, a large and extremely successful hedge fund.

Simons, who spent years in academia before leaving to found Renaissance, has extensive connections to MSRI and Berkeley. He received his PhD at Berkeley, and has been a member of the board of MSRI since 1999. His best known research result, known as the Chern–Simons invariants, provides another link to MSRI: Chern is Shiing-Shen Chern, co-founder and first director of MSRI (1981–84). Closing the loop, Simons has returned to mathematical research, specifically to his earlier work on Chern–Simons invariants: On May 4, as pictured above, he gave two talks at MSRI on new results obtained in joint work with Dennis Sullivan of CUNY. (Closing a related loop, Robert Bryant, named on May 11 to succeed Eisenbud, was a student of a student of Chern. A differential geometer from Duke University, Bryant has wide-ranging interests in pure and applied mathematics.)

Mathematics education at all levels being something of a theme in this issue of SIAM News, a note about other activities of the Simons Foundation is in order. Since 2004, the foundation has run Math for America, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve mathematics education in the nation's public schools, beginning with New York City. One project, the Newton Fellowship program, supports the education of prospective secondary school teachers of mathematics. The program expects to have funded 340 Newton Fellows by 2011---possibly leading to stronger performance for New York City schools in future Moody's/SIAM modeling challenges (see "Keeping the Bar High, New Jersey High School Fields Top Two Teams in Modeling Contest").

Eisenbud, who will continue in his position as a professor of mathematics at Berkeley, described himself as "particularly honored and gratified that Jim Simons has chosen to place a professorship in my name, as part of his phenomenal generosity toward mathematics and MSRI."

The $10 million gift, said Charles Fefferman of Princeton University, who chairs the MSRI board of trustees, "reflects Jim Simons's deep passion for mathematics. We hope this extraordinary gift will help bring forth at MSRI future breakthroughs of the stature of the Chern–Simons invariants. We are all deeply grateful."


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