Half down, half to go. On August 17 the Institute for Advanced Study received a $100 million grant from the Simons Foundation in New York and the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences.
The $100 million grant — the largest since the founders’ gift establishing the Institute in 1930 — actually is the basis for a $200 million campaign to strengthen the institute’s endowment and is conditional upon the fact that the money must be matched by funds from donors within the next four years. Immediately following the announcement, IAS stated that it already had received $9 million.
According to IAS, the main goal of the $200 million campaign is to raise new endowment funds that will allow the institute to “keep its draw on the endowment at an acceptable level over the long term. The stability and health of the Institute’s endowment is essential for its financial independence because the institution relies on endowment income for approximately three quarters of its operating expenses.”
This campaign will build upon the successful completion of the institute’s 2004 campaign, which raised $135 million from more than 1,500 donors.
Charles Simonyi, best known as the co-developer of Microsoft’s flagship workstation programs, Excel and Word, is the chairman of the IAS board and a billionaire philanthropist who once traveled to outer space (U.S.1 May 5, 2010). Born in Budapest, Hungary, where his father was a professor of electrical engineering at Technical University, Simonyi first dabbled in computers as a high school student.
He worked part-time as a night watchman at a computer laboratory that housed a mainframe for the Soviet Union. An engineer at the lab taught him about computers, and by the time he left high school, he had learned enough to build a system that he sold to the government, according to the 2007 biography “Patterns of Discovery” by Peter Alesso, Craig Smith, and James Burke.
In 1966 Simonyi was hired by A/S Regnecentralen, a Danish technology firm, which sent him to the UC-Berkeley two years later. He earned his bachelor’s in engineering mathematics and statistics in 1972.
Simonyi then went to Stanford for graduate studies and was hired by Xerox, where he co-developed the Alto, the world’s first personal computer. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford in 1977 with a dissertation on a software project management technique called “metaprogramming,” which allows computers to communicate with each other directly, rather than through a manager or programmer.
In 1981 Simonyi applied for a job at Microsoft, interviewing with Bill Gates himself. There he oversaw the company’s software applications department, developing Word and Excel. In 2002 he left Microsoft to co-found, with business partner Gregor Kiczales, a company called Intentional Software, which is based in Hungary and Washington State.
The company markets the “intentional programming” concepts Simonyi developed at Microsoft Research, in which software seeks to match its actions with the original intentions of the programmer.
A philanthropist since 1995, Simonyi created the $50 million Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences for the Seattle area in 2004. In 2007 he became one of the first civilians to buy a ride into outer space, aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-10. Last March, aboard Soyuz TMA-14, he made a second trip to the International Space Station.
The institute’s other benefactor, James Simons, is the board vice chairman and is among the top 100 wealthiest Americans, according to Forbes Magazine, which has ranked him as high as 29.
Simons is the president of Renaissance Technologies Corp., a private hedge fund that claims roughly $12 billion under its management. Previously he was chairman of the mathematics department at SUNY-Stony Brook, a cryptanalyst at the Institute of Defense Analyses in Princeton, and a mathematics professor at MIT and Harvard. He earned his bachelor’s in mathematics from MIT and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley.
A researcher in geometry and topology in the 1970s, Simons received the American Mathematical Society Veblen Prize in Geometry in 1975 for a project that answered two longstanding mathematical questions. He also was involved in the discovery and application of certain geometric measurements widely used in theoretical physics.
Simons is the founder and chairman of Math for America, a nonprofit organization with a mission to significantly improve math education in public schools.
In 1994 he and his wife, Marilyn Hawrys Simons, founded the Simons Foundation, which has funded several initiatives at IAS, including the Simons Center for Systems Biology. The foundation also oversees the Autism Research Initiative, which hopes to conquer autism through neuroscience research.
Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein Drive, Princeton 08540; 609-734-8000; fax, 609-924-8399. Peter Goddard, director. www.ias.edu