The Simons Foundation has announced the surprise selection of 7 mathematicians and 9 theoretical physicists as Simons Investigators. Those selected will get \$100,000/year for 5 years, renewable for another 5, their departments \$10,000/year, their institutions \$22,000/year.
According to a Washington Post story, this is just the beginning of the program, which will continue to make these $1 million no-strings-attached awards to prominent mathematicians, theoretical physicists and theoretical computers scientists every one to two years.
This isn’t something you can apply for, the Simons Foundation has a panel which made the selections. These awards are being compared to the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grants”, which provide the same unrestricted \$100,000/year size grants, but only for five years. When the MacArthur program started back in the early eighties, particle theorists and mathematicians were often chosen (Witten and Wilczek were among the earliest choices), but in recent years that has been very uncommon. Two of the seven mathematicians chosen (Terry Tao and Horng-Tzer Yau) were also MacArthur Fellows.
The goal of the Simons program is to provde “a stable base of support for outstanding scientists, enabling them to undertake long-term study of fundamental questions.” I guess this means the idea is to make it possible for them to work on longer-term more ambitious projects without worrying about the NSF cutting off their grants. It’s interesting that the Simons Foundation sees this as a problem to be addressed, given that these are about the most prominent people in math and theoretical physics, among those least likely to ever have a grant application turned down.
In other Simons Foundation news, Yuri Tschinkel, an algebraic geometry from NYU, will take over from David Eisenbud as Director of the Division for Mathematics and Physical Sciences. Eisenbud is returning to MSRI in Berkeley for a second stint as Director there.