Via Steve Hsu, the news from the Wall Street Journal is that Renaissance Technologies is about to launch a new hedge fund that could end up managing $100 billion, 10% of the total managed by all hedge funds today.
Renaissance Technologies is run by mathematician Jim Simons, perhaps the most successful hedge fund manager ever. His current Medallion hedge fund manages $5 billion, and his personal net worth is estimated to be about $2.5 billion. Renaissance employs many Ph.D. mathematicians and other scientists, but is quite secretive about their investment strategies. If you ask people who are working there about what they are doing, you get answers like “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
Simons was an undergraduate at MIT, got his Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1961, then was a junior faculty member at MIT and Harvard. He worked for a while at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Princeton, but was fired over criticism of the Vietnam War. He then went to SUNY Stony Brook, where as chair he built up a great math department, one especially strong in geometry. His work with Chern in the early seventies led to an extension of Chern-Weil theory involving “Chern-Simons forms”, which have been of great importance in physics.
During the seventies he started trading currencies and commodities with his own money, leaving Stony Brook in 1978 to form his own investment fund. Over the years he has been generous to the mathematics community, supporting MSRI, the IAS, the Stony Brook and MIT math departments, and many conferences and workshops. I have no idea what his long term plans are for his current billions or the additional ones his new hedge fund may generate, but if even a fraction of them end up financing pure math research, this could have a very dramatic effect.