Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook

Today here in New York City there will be a formal announcement by governor Eliot Spitzer of a gift by Jim Simons of $60 million dollars to fund a new research center at SUNY Stony Brook, to be called the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook. Simons already made a donation of $25 million dollars to Stony Brook back in 2006 to support math and physics, with the idea of getting such a center off the ground. People there had told me last year that they were expecting Simons to fully fund an expensive new center with a new building once they had managed to find a suitable director, and recently I had heard that string theorist Michael Douglas had accepted the director’s position.

This is the largest gift ever made not only to Stony Brook, but to any of the institutions in the SUNY system. Besides the building and the position for Douglas, it is supposed to fund 30 visiting positions and presumably a sizable number of permanent positions in mathematics and physics (the 2006 gift also is supposed to pay for such positions). The scale of this should make the Simons Center among the best funded institutions in this field. Job prospects for string theorists have just improved significantly…

For more details see stories from the New York Times, Newsday, and Crain’s Business Report.

Update: More here.

: More in the New York Times here. The $60 million includes the previously announced $25 million, and will pay for a new building as well as an endowment of $40-45 million. The endowment will fund the director’s position, 6 more permanent positions, and 30 postdocs and visiting positions.

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8 Responses to Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook

  1. Chris Oakley says:

    Just to say how delighted I am to hear that despite minor teething problems (lack of a theory, lack of ability to make predictions, etc.) String Theory is considered to be alive and well by scientifically literate billionaires.

  2. Stephen J. Summers says:

    Are we to understand that “mathematics + physics = string theory”
    alone? Or even that “geometry + physics = string theory” alone?
    I get this impression from reading the mentioned sites. What a waste such a center would be if it is run with that credo. Does anyone know if the new director is a string theory ideologue,
    or does he recognize that there are other realms in mathematical
    physics which are of physical relevance?

  3. Peter Woit says:


    I suspect that hiring decisions will be made by a group of people from both mathematics and physics, with the mathematicians interested in hiring mathematicians in a range different fields that touch on physics in one way or another. I don’t know what the physicists will do: in recent years there has been an unfortunate prejudice in physics departments to identify string theory with the mathematical end of physics. I also don’t know to what extent Douglas is a “string ideologue”, but given his background and that of some of the other people involved with this, I predict that a lot of string theorists will get hired at the Simons Center.

    Many years ago when I was a postdoc at Stony Brook, even then the math and ITP groups had a pretty close relationship. But when grant money appeared to support math-physics, from what I remember they pretty much split it down the middle, with mathematicians hiring mathematicians not necessarily so interested in physics, and physicists hiring physicists not necessarily so interested in math. This Center is operating on a very different scale and these are very different times, it will be interesting to see how they deal with this.

    In his comments about the gift, Simons specifically refers to the mathematical significance of quantum field theory as well as string theory, so perhaps this will be reflected in who they hire. These days though, I can think of few physics departments interested in hiring mathematically oriented quantum field theorists who are doing things completely unrelated to string theory. Maybe Stony Brook will be different…

    One other problem is that if you try and look for young people trained in physics departments who are working on mathematically sophisticated approaches to QFT, but not string theory, your hiring pool is pretty small and consists solely of the professionally suicidal.

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  5. layman says:

    Very interesting post. I was a grad student in ITP in the 80s. So, this new center will be a different building from ITP. With Micheal douglas as the new, improved, C.N. Yang?

    Does the 60 billion really fund a new building or will those guys be given offices in ITP?

  6. Peter Woit says:


    Unfortunately, it’s 60 million, not billion…

    My understanding is that the Simons Center will not replace the YITP but be a separate entity, with the YITP continuing as before. There definitely will be a new building, or at least an addition to the current one, I’m not sure which. The current math/YITP building actually has one blank side, since the original plan was to build farther in that direction, but they stopped due to not enough money. I’m not sure if this was during the era of Simons as dept. chair. It would be funny if the building project he could not complete as chair now gets done with his personal money.

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