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Remembering Jim Simons

Remembering Jim Simons

It is with great sadness that the Exploratorium shares news of the passing of philanthropist Dr. James Harris Simons, on May 10, 2024, at the age of 86, in New York City. Jim was an award-winning mathematician, a legend in quantitative investing, and an inspired and generous philanthropist.

Jim Simons stands in front of a chalkboard covered in mathematical formulas and equations, gesturing as he lectures.

After undergraduate studies at MIT and a PhD in math from UC Berkeley, Jim’s illustrious career spanned a controversial stint with the Defense Department, heading the math department at Stony Brook University, where he was beloved by students and his research significantly advanced quantum field theory. He eventually followed his interest in finance to found Renaissance Technologies, the firm that went on to revolutionize investing through a data-driven approach. The venture made Jim what he described as “a remarkable amount of money.” As a result, the final phase of his career was devoted to philanthropy.

In 1994 Jim and his wife, Dr. Marilyn Simons, an economist, founded the Simons Foundation to support scientists and organizations worldwide in advancing the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences. Between the Foundation’s own Flatiron Institute and the organization's investments worldwide, it has supported critical projects that made significant breakthroughs in our understanding of autism, the origins of the universe, cellular biology, and computational science. They have often funded cutting-edge, long-term projects that others, including the federal government, would not.

As an educator himself, Jim was particularly passionate about supporting math and science education. At the Exploratorium, the Simons Foundation supported projects including Middle Ground and a computational tinkering initiative to nurture the next generation of scientists and mathematicians. Chief Learning Officer Rob Semper recalls that the Foundation took keen interest in “projects that took the Exploratorium experience into the community as public exhibits and out-of-school education.”

In remembering their co-founder, the Simons Foundation shared a quote from a 2010 talk at his alma mater MIT. “Do something new; don’t run with the pack. Surround yourself with the smartest people you can find. Be guided by beauty. Don’t give up easily. Hope for good luck!” A simple philosophy for living a life whose legacy will no doubt continue to inspire and support scientists for generations to come.

Messages of remembrance can be sent to and will be posted on the Simons Foundation website.

For further information about the legacy of Jim Simons at the Exploratorium, please contact

People holding hands and dancing together at the Middle Ground exhibition outside of the San Francisco Main Library.

Visitors interact at the free Middle Ground exhibition, funded by the Simons Foundation, outside the Main Library in San Francisco, California.


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About the Exploratorium

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The Exploratorium is a portal to the astonishing scientific phenomena that animate our world and shape our actions. We create extraordinary learning experiences that ignite curiosity, upend perceptions, and inspire brave leaps forward. Since 1969, the Exploratorium’s museum in San Francisco has been home to a renowned collection of exhibits that draw together science, art, and human perception, and that have changed the way science is taught. Our award-winning programs provide a forum for the public to engage with artists, scientists, policymakers, educators, and tinkerers to explore the world around them. We celebrate diversity of thought, inspired investigation, and collaboration across all boundaries.

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