Once it is operational, the new center will bring together experts in applied mathematics, computer science, theoretical physics, and engineering to further basic research and investigation into a range of diseases and illnesses, including cancer, autism, bipolar disorder, and depression. Adam Siepel, director of the Ph.D. program in computational biology at Cornell University and associate director of the Cornell Center for Comparative and Population Genomics, will chair the center.
"The pace of modern science and the vast amount of data being generated, both in genomics and imaging, has necessitated an expansion of our research to include scientists with expertise in quantitative analysis," said CSHL president Bruce Stillman. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Stillman noted that it is "almost impossible to do biology now without being able to analyze large sets of data."
At the same time, Simons Foundation board chair James Simons told the Journal that his foundation is "backing down from broad institutional support" and won't be making many more gifts like the $50 million to CSHL. "We're moving in the direction of collaborative, goal-driven science" — a kind of grantmaking that is "exciting" and "fills a niche," he added.
Simons Foundation president Marilyn Simons is vice chair of the CSHL board of trustees, while Simons himself, a former chair of the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook University and faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University who went on to found wildly successful hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, is an honorary CSHL trustee. The gift is the latest in a series of grants the Simons Foundation has awarded to CSHL, including $6.5 million in 2012 in support of autism research.
"Jim Simons used his mathematical expertise to change the way the world thinks about financial markets, and he is now profoundly changing the world of science through philanthropy," said CSHL board chair Jamie C. Nicholls. "Jim and Marilyn Simons' longtime support for scientific research is empowering breakthrough discoveries at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and beyond."