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December 14, 2011

In Education: Billionaire Ex-Professor Gives Stony Brook $150-Million

The billionaire hedge-fund manager James H. Simons plans to announce today a $150-million gift to the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he taught mathematics before pursuing a career in finance, The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times report.

The donation from Mr. Simons and his wife, Marilyn, a Stony Brook alumna, made through their Simons Foundation, is by far the largest ever to a SUNY campus and the sixth-biggest gift to a U.S. public university.

The gift, to be paid out over seven years, will go mostly toward building new Stony Brook facilities for medical research, including a life-sciences building and a neurosciences institute. It will also pay for 35 new endowed professorships and 40 graduate-student fellowships.

Mr. Simons chaired Stony Brook's math department from 1968 to 1976 and went on to found the hedge-fund firm Renaissance Technologies, from which he retired as CEO two years ago.

The Simons Foundation has also donated $26.5-million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue research on diagnosing and treating autism, the university announced. The gift will establish the Simons Center for the Social Brain at MIT, where Mr. Simons earned his bachelor's degree in 1958.

In other education news, the Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are giving Princeton University $15-million for brain research, The Times of Trenton, N.J., writes. The money will help create the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at the New Jersey school, from which both Mr. and Ms. Bezos graduated. The center will study the workings of neural circuits and how they direct brain functions such as decision-making and memory.

Read more in The Chronicle about young Internet tycoons like Mr. Bezos in the cover story from our latest issue.