$900K Grant Strengthens CUNY as a Hub for the Theoretical Sciences

August 9, 2022

Simons Foundation funds student fellowships and programming at the Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences.

Simons Foundation Grant for ITS
The Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences (ITS) received generous funding for symposia, a visiting scientists program, and fellowships for CUNY Graduate Center science Ph.D. students. (Credit: Getty Images)

The Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center endeavors to develop concise and compelling mathematical descriptions of the natural world by promoting collaborative, cutting-edge research in theoretical science disciplines ranging from biophysics to artificial intelligence. It’s an ambitious mission and one that is gaining attention from scientists and the public. Now, a grant of just over $900,000 from the New York City–based Simons Foundation, whose mission is to advance basic scientific research, will allow the institute, known as ITS, to expand its programs and reach and provide opportunities for promising and ambitious CUNY doctoral students. 

The three-year grant to ITS will fund symposia, a visiting scientists program, and fellowships for CUNY Graduate Center science Ph.D. students.

ITS is akin to a think tank for science faculty at The City University of New York as well as postdoctoral fellows, students, and visiting scholars whose research and teaching emphasize theoretical approaches to the natural sciences. The phenomena they study range from the building blocks of matter to the dynamics of social systems, from the behavior of electrons in solids to the behavior of neurons in the brain. ITS shares the excitement of science with the public and provokes high-level discussions within the theoretical science community by convening seminars, symposia, and conferences with scientists in areas such as biophysics, artificial intelligence, applied mathematics, mathematical biology, and high-energy physics. 

“ITS serves as a hub for intellectual excellence for the CUNY system — a system that serves a quarter-million NYC students and also plays an important role in the international intellectual community,” said David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation.

Learn More About the Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences

With the Simons Foundation grant, ITS plans to host 20 to 30 symposia a year over three years. Past symposia have drawn several hundred participants, and recordings of recent symposia on topics ranging from self-organizing systems and the origins of life to how babies learn language have attracted thousands of views on the ITS YouTube channel

ITS programming will also be enhanced by a grant-supported visitors program that will bring approximately 20 visiting scientists a year to give seminars and lectures. Visitors will include eminent scientists and those who are in the early stages of their careers. The visitors program will stimulate theoretical science research at CUNY and allow ITS to become a premiere New York City–based hub of collaborative, cross-disciplinary theoretical science. 

The bulk of the grant will support one-year fellowships of just over $40,000 for CUNY Graduate Center science Ph.D. students in programs such as Physics, Biology, and Mathematics. Fellows will teach tutorials that accompany symposia and will organize a weekly journal club to build connections among graduate students throughout CUNY and the New York City region and encourage them to engage with ITS programming and research. By interacting with scientists outside of their areas of research, fellows will be able to broaden their understanding of the theoretical sciences. ITS expects that the student fellows will also stimulate discussion among researchers in different fields, which can foster connections between theoretical science subfields and, ultimately, scientific breakthroughs.

“We are extremely grateful to the Simons Foundation for its generous support of the exciting, collaborative work of the Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences,” said Joshua Brumberg, dean for the sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center. “As a public, research-intensive graduate school, we are equally committed to incubating cutting-edge research and to developing the next generation of scientists who will lead innovation and advance our understanding of the world. The Simons Foundation is making it possible for ITS and the Graduate Center to carry out both of those priorities, strengthening CUNY as a leader in theoretical science research and education.”

“Many of the most fundamental breakthroughs in science have occurred when ideas and methods in one field have been transplanted to another,” said John Terilla, a professor of Mathematics at the CUNY Graduate Center and Queens College, an ITS faculty member, and the principal investigator of the grant. “ITS aims to connect the diverse subfields of theoretical science and seed future breakthroughs. The generous Simons Foundation funding allows ITS to bring together established and up-and-coming theoretical scientists in different disciplines and, ultimately, spark true eureka moments.” 

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