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York University President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri announced a $1.3-million barrier-breaking gift from Jim and Marilyn Simons that will create the York Science Fellows program in the Faculty of Science. The program will fund at least 12 three-year postdoctoral fellowships, valued at $72,000 per annum each, including contributions from the Faculty and supervisory faculty members. The announcement was made Oct. 24 at a special event on the University’s Keele campus.

“The Simons’ gift gives York University the ability to strengthen our research culture by propelling forward scholarship by bright, young minds and reinforcing the sciences as a signature strength of our University,” said President Shoukri. “On behalf of the University, I wish to express our gratitude to Jim and Marilyn Simons for this generous support.”

Postdocs are essential to scientific undertakings because they bring new energy, cultivate new ideas and enhance research productivity. Through the fellowships, the donation will help prepare young researchers to be leaders in their fields and close the financial gap that restricts the number of top-level talent Canadian universities can attract.

On behalf of the Simonses, Patricia Weisenfeld, vice-president of special initiatives at the Simons Foundation, said, “This gift conveys confidence that exciting research is happening here at York, and the Foundation sets the bar high. York embodies our values of excellence and aligns with our belief that when we invest in talented young scientists, we invest in the world. We are pleased to help expand opportunities for these young scientists and researchers.”

Together, Jim and Marilyn Simons manage the Simons Foundation, a charitable organization that has promoted scientific research in mathematics and the basic sciences at universities and institutions in the U.S. and abroad for more than 20 years.

A celebrated mathematician, businessperson and philanthropist, Jim Simons is chair of the Foundation, and founder and board chair of Renaissance Technologies LLC, a qualitative investment firm, as well as Math for America, a non-profit that enhances math teaching in public school. He received an honorary doctorate of science from York earlier this year. He holds a BS and PhD in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley respectively and served on the faculty of Stony Brook University. His most influential research involved the discovery of and application of geometric measurements, now called Chern-Simons Invariants.

Marilyn Simons is president of the Simons Foundation and has more than 25 years of experience supporting non-profit organizations in promoting basic science research and in improving K–12 education in underserved communities. She holds a BA and PhD in economics from Stony Brook University.

The Simons’ transformative gift directly supports “Impact: The Campaign for York University”, a $500-million fundraising and alumni engagement initiative. One of the campaign’s main priorities is to mobilize new ways of thinking, including investment in young researchers that drive innovation, of which postdoctoral fellowships are a large part.

“From personal experience when I was as postdoc myself and now as a mentor, I know that postdocs are at the forefront of scientific discovery,” said Ray Jayawardhana, dean of the Faculty of Science. “We are thrilled to share in a new investment in emerging scientists and to serve as a top destination for postdocs looking to launch their independent scientific careers. I can’t wait to see the exciting discoveries and contributions that York Science Fellows will make during their time here and beyond.”

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