MIT has named its historic Building 2 in honor of James H. '58 and Marilyn Simons, whose generosity has enabled the Institute to restore and renovate the building. Building 2 is part of the iconic "Main Group," a complex of connected buildings that comprised the MIT campus when it first moved to Cambridge from Boston in 1916. The new Simons Building is home to MIT's renowned Department of Mathematics.
MIT's Main Group was designed by architect William Welles Bosworth 1889 and had remained largely unchanged for 100 years. The renovation of Building 2, completed in time for the Main Group's upcoming centennial anniversary, aimed to restore the antiquated infrastructure and create spaces that befit a modern academic enterprise. Led by MIT alumna Ann Beha '75, principal at Ann Beha Architects, the project featured a detailed restoration of the original limestone façade; reconfiguration and modernization of classrooms, offices, and collaborative spaces; and the addition of a fourth floor.
"Jim is a wonderful testament to his MIT education — utilizing his mathematical acumen in government and academia, and then to carve out a unique niche in the investment world," says Michael Sipser, dean of the School of Science and former mathematics department head. "We are deeply grateful to Jim and Marilyn for supporting the vital, continuing importance of mathematics at MIT and in the world."
The new Simons Building provides a fitting headquarters for the Department of Mathematics, which holds a core intellectual position at MIT — foundational to research and learning in the sciences and engineering. Mathematics is the third-largest undergraduate major at MIT, and the graduate program is ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report and QS World University Rankings. Department faculty have won scores of awards, including MacArthur Fellowships and the Abel Prize, the mathematics equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
James Simons holds a BS in mathematics from MIT and a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley and has had a distinguished career in academia, government, and finance. He worked with the National Security Agency to break codes during the Cold War, taught at MIT and Harvard University, and was a professor of mathematics and department chair at Stony Brook University. Simons co-invented Chern-Simons forms, one of the most important aspects of string theory. In 1976, he won the Oswald Veblen Prize in Geometry, awarded by the American Mathematical Society for notable research. In 1982, Simons founded Renaissance Technologies LLC, an investment company that adheres to mathematical and computational methods and has more than $25 billion under management. In 2006, the International Association of Financial Engineers named him Financial Engineer of the Year. He was named a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014.
The Simons are active members of their community. Since leaving Renaissance, Jim has worked with his wife Marilyn at the Simons Foundation, which they established in 1994 to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences. In 2004, Jim founded Math for America, a nonprofit with a mission to improve mathematics and science education in public schools by creating a core of outstanding and knowledgeable teachers in these STEM areas. The corps currently comprises more than 1,000 teachers in New York City and more than 650 in other parts of the state. Jim is also a trustee of the Brookhaven Laboratory, the Institute for Advanced Study, as well as a number of other such organizations, and Marilyn is a trustee of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where she serves as vice chair.
The couple also has a lengthy record of service at MIT. Jim Simons is a life member emeritus of the MIT Corporation. In addition to supporting Building 2 at MIT, their foundation established the Simons Center for the Social Brain to create and translate knowledge into better diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.
“The Simons Building is a tribute to Jim’s exceptional creativity and twin careers in both mathematics and business, and it is a permanent celebration of the Simons’ extraordinary commitment to education,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “Thanks to Jim and Marilyn, MIT’s renowned Department of Mathematics now has a world-class home.”
"I am a mathematician at heart, and MIT has played a significant role in my life," Jim Simons says. "We are delighted to help ensure that faculty and students have access to top-notch facilities."
The new Simons Building opened in January in time for the spring semester. In the fall of 2016, the building will be officially dedicated in honor of the couple and their generosity to MIT.