The mission of the Simons Foundation is to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences. The Simons Foundation and Princeton often collaborate to advance fundamental scientific research, especially in the fields of mathematics, computer science, astrophysics and the life sciences. Princeton has also welcomed many scientific collaborations and contributions from the Flatiron Institute in New York City, which is an internal research division of the Simons Foundation launched in 2016.
Understanding the Early Universe
The Simons Foundation is a longtime supporter of the quest to understand the early universe. In 2019, the Simons Foundation continued its funding of breakthrough cosmological research by Princeton faculty by committing $20 million to the study of the moments immediately after the universe’s inception. This contribution will go towards the operation costs of the Simons Observatory, located in the Atacama Desert of Chile.
The observatory will study the universe’s Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) to further investigate the universe’s origins, composition, and evolution to its current state. Upon completion of the construction and installation of the observatory – established by a previous $40 million grant by the Simons Foundation to Princeton and four other research institutions – this future commitment will fund the first five years of observatory operations and data analysis from 2022 to 2027. Hopefully, these new resources will help scientists to understand the complex, thrilling story of how the early universe was formed.
A Long-Term Base of Research Support
Faculty at Princeton have also been generously supported by the Simons Foundation through its various awards and fellowships. This funding gives these experts the freedom and time to pursue challenging and demanding research. Princeton has a particular history of success with the Simons Investigators awards, which are given to outstanding theoretical scientists. They receive a stable base of research support from the foundation, providing the resources for them to undertake the long-term study of fundamental questions.
Recent investigators include 2021 winners Assaf Naor and June Huh in mathematics, 2020 winner Codá Marques in mathematics, and 2018 winner Ran Raz in theoretical computer science – Princeton has had at least one investigator nearly every year since 2012. Simons Investigators receive $100,000 of research support per year for five years, with an additional $10,000 per year given to their department.
Additionally, the Simons Foundation has a history of giving Princeton faculty the means to have more productive sabbatical research leaves through the Simons Fellows program. The program makes sabbaticals more productive by extending them from a single term to a full year, enabling recipients to focus solely on research for the long periods often necessary for significant advances. In 2019, three Princeton faculty members – David Huse in theoretical physics, and Paul C. Yang and Sergiu Klainerman in mathematics – received Simons Foundation fellowships.
Fostering Large, Ambitious Research Collaborations
The Simons Foundation has also helped to launch transnational and multi-institutional research collaborations led by Princeton faculty. In 2018, an international research effort led by professor of astrophysics Amitava Bhattacharjee received a Simons Foundation Mathematical and Physical Sciences Award valued at $2 million a year for four years. Project collaborators are from eight U.S. universities and four international institutions.
The assignment: to create the framework for an optimum stellarator fusion facility that combines the best features of both stellarator and doughnut-shaped tokamak fusion reactor designs. This development will aid the effort to replicate on Earth the fusion reactions that power the sun and stars to produce a virtually limitless supply of electricity. “This project requires fundamental breakthroughs in physics, mathematics and computation,” Bhattacharjee said. “If successful, we will be able to design the world’s best fusion reactor with importance for the entire world.”
In addition to the Simons Collaboration on Hidden Symmetries and Fusion Energy, several other Simons Collaborations are led by Princeton faculty. These include the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (David Tank), the Simons Collaboration on Algorithms and Geometry (Assaf Naor), the Simons Collaboration on Plasticity and the Aging Brain (Coleen Murphy), and the new the Simons Collaboration on Confinement and QCD Strings (Igor Klebanov). Numerous other Princeton faculty participate as principal investigators in these and other Simons Collaborations.
In 2021, a joint team of researchers from Princeton, Columbia and the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) confirmed a prediction of Einstein’s general relativity. Using supercomputer simulations of a plasma-engulfed black hole, researchers found that the “no-hair” conjecture of general relativity holds. This conjecture states that no matter what a black hole consumes, the only three externally observable parameters of a black hole are mass, electric charge, and angular momentum. All other characteristics, or “hair,” are not observable – hence the saying, “black holes have no hair.” These simulations contributed to our understanding of the interactions between black holes, plasma, and magnetic fields.
Simons has also participated in the various conferences and events hosted by the Office of CEFR at Princeton to foster industry partnerships. At Biomedical Data Science Day 2017, Leslie Greengard, former Director of the Center for Computational Biology at the Flatiron Institute (and now director of the Center for Computational Mathematics) spoke on modeling, simulation and large-scale computing in biomedical data science. Greengard’s talk helped to frame later discussions during this invitation-only Industry Engagement Day, which invited biopharma R&D leaders to the Princeton campus to explore cutting edge research and to stimulate new collaborations and relationships.
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