2021 Gala Program

Guest of Honor


Marilyn Hawrys Simons received a B.A. and Ph.D. in Economics from SUNY, Stony Brook. She has volunteered in the non‑profit sector for the last thirty years. In 1994, she co‑funded the Simons Foundation together with her husband, Jim Simons, and served as its President until June 2021. The Simons Foundation funds research and educational programs in mathematics, physics and life sciences, in the United States and across the world. Both through the Simons Foundation and at a personal level, Marilyn Simons has supported programs promoting an increased diversity and improved equity in science and economics. In 2013, she was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy, for her extraordinary and pre‑eminent role in philanthropy. Marilyn is involved in various education initiatives and serves as a board member for many prestigious scientific institutions, including the American National Museum of Mathematics. Through the Simons Foundation, Marilyn Simons has played an essential role in supporting the IHES’ ambition to develop greater financial independence. In 1998 the Simons Foundation made the very first gift to the Institute’s endowment and has ever since promoted the Institute’s advancement through generous challenge gifts as well as unrestricted donations. Over the course of two decades, the Simons Foundation has given more than $25 million to both specific projects, such as the building of the conference center that carries the names of Marilyn and Jim Simons, and to the Institute’s endowment, for example for the creation of the Simons Foundation Biology Fund at IHES.

Honorary Guest Speaker

Janna Levin is the Claire Tow Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. She is also the Chair and Founding Director of the Science Studios at Pioneer Works. A Guggenheim Fellow, Janna has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime. She is the presenter of the NOVA feature Black Hole Apocalypse, aired on PBS—the first female presenter for NOVA in 35 years. Her previous books include How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham Prize. Her latest book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, is the inside story on the discovery of the century: the sound of spacetime ringing from the collision of two black holes over a billion years ago.

Master of Ceremonies

The passionately multifaceted Gioia De Cari is an actress, singer, playwright, and “recovering mathematician” who has made significant contributions in theater and classical music through her exploration of the synergy between science and the arts. 

Gioia’s critically-acclaimed award-winning play Truth Values, a true-life story of her experiences as a woman in the male-dominated world of mathematics, has been presented at more than 50 venues across the United States, including the La Jolla Playhouse Potiker Theatre, the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre, among many others. 

Truth Values has been embraced nationally as a conversation catalyst on diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), having been presented with more than 75 expert panel discussions on this topic. A companion educational program to the play, Truth Values Community, was sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

An accomplished classical singer as well, Gioia has recorded two albums, Quiet Songs and Eve’s Diary, with her husband, classical guitarist John Olson, as the Olson/DeCari Duo. A particular focus of their work is expansion of the classical repertoire for soprano and guitar; they founded the Science Music Commissioning Project, which seeks to illuminate the human side of science through song. They have toured throughout the United States.

Gioia studied acting and playwriting with the late legendary teachers Wynn Handman and Milan Stitt, respectively. After graduating summa cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley, she earned a Master of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gioia is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association, SAG-AFTRA, and The Dramatists Guild of America.