Mathematical Sciences Research Institute

Home > About Us > Our History

Our History

In the early 1960s, at a meeting of an advisory committee of the National Science Foundation (NSF), scientists from diverse disciplines were asked “What, in your discipline, could make for a quantum leap in achievement?” Committee member Irving Kaplansky replied: “For mathematics, found two new Institutes for Advanced Study—one in the Midwest, and one on the West Coast.”

In 1978, the Director of the NSF, Dr. Richard C. Atkinson, forwarded material to the NSB (National Science Board) regarding the need for supplementing the Foundation’s project research grant mechanism for the mathematical sciences by establishing a research institute. Quoting from Atkinson’s memo to the NB:

American research in mathematics is today in a golden age. But there is within the mathematical community a general consensus that, in order to maintain and even further stimulate the unequalled pace of research of the past dozen years, another mathematical sciences research institute, similar but not identical to the famous Institute for Advanced Study, should be established. Over the past three years, this concept has been discussed during meetings of the mathematical sciences professional organizations.
Letters from and conversations with many American mathematicians show agreement with the need for continued stimulation of mathematical research and with the concept of a research institute as an efficient and effective method of providing such stimulation.
RESOLVED that the National Science Board approves the establishment of a Mathematical Sciences Research Institute; further, the Board approves of a Project Announcement and the general plans for the establishment of the Institute.

In response to the 1978 NSF Proposal Solicitation “A Mathematical Sciences Research Institute,” three UC Berkeley mathematics professors acted as Principal Investigators: Shiing-Shen Chern, Calvin Moore, and I. M. Singer submitted a proposal to fund MSRI in 1979, requesting $9,096,873 over 84 months starting July 1, 1980. From the beginning, the Institute was envisioned as an independent, non-profit organization with support from many different universities and to be housed in a building owned by UC Berkeley. The Articles of Incorporation state “The specific and primary purposes are to preserve and strengthen the intellectual vigor of the nation’s effort in the mathematical sciences by stimulating mathematical research in diverse areas among mathematical sciences.”

In 1979 a nonprofit California corporation—MSRI, Inc.—was established. In January of 1981, Chancellor Ira M. Heyman presented University President David Saxon with a proposal for a facility to house the proposed MSRI. An NSF Site Visit took place on March 10, 1981. On May 15, 1981, the UC Regents approved an agreement with MSRI to construct and finance an Institute building on the UC Berkeley campus. On June 2, 1981, the NSF officially announced that they would fund two mathematical institutes: MSRI in Berkeley and IMA in Minneapolis.

MSRI's founding Director was Shiing-Shen Chern (1981–84), and the founding Deputy Director was Calvin Moore (1981–85). In September 1982, MSRI began full scientific operation at the UC Extension Building at 2223 Fulton Street. In January 1984, ground was broken for the present building in the hills above UC Berkeley’s main campus, and MSRI moved into the facility on April 1, 1985. Initially, MSRI paid rent for this building, but, since August 2000, it has occupied the building rent-free, as one of several contributions of the UC campus.

MSRI wishes to thank those who are part of its history and future…


Calvin Moore
Shiing-Shen Chern
I. M. Singer

Chairs of the Board:

Hyman Bass (10/3/81 – 9/30/85)
Hugo Rossi (10/1/85 – 3/19/89)
John Morgan (3/20/89 – 3/31/94)
Elwyn Berlekamp (4/1/94 – 3/31/98)
Dusa McDuff (4/1/98 – 3/31/01)
Robert Bryant (4/1/01 – 3/31/04)
Donald Saari (4/1/2004 – 3/31/2007)
Charles Fefferman (4/1/2007 – 3/31/2010)
Phillip Griffiths (4/1/2010 – 3/31/2013)
Roger Strauch (4/1/2013 – 3/31/2019)


Shiing-Shen Chern (10/1/1981 – 8/31/1984)
Irving Kaplansky (9/1/1984 – 6/30/1992)
William Thurston (7/1/1992 – 6/30/1997)
David Eisenbud (7/1/1997 – 7/31/2007 and 8/1/2013 – 7/31/2022)
Robert Bryant (8/1/2007 – 7/31/2013)

Deputy Directors:

Calvin Moore (10/1/1981 – 7/1/1985)
Robion Kirby (7/1/1985 – 4/20/1987)
P. Emery Thomas (4/20/1987 – 8/30/1990)
Robert Osserman (9/1/1990 – 8/31/1995)
Lenore Blum (9/1/1992 – 6/30/1997)
Tsit-Yuen Lam (8/15/1995 – 7/31/1997)
Carol Wood (8/1/1996 – 7/31/1997)
Hugo Rossi (8/1/1997 – 7/31/1999 and 8/1/2003–8/1/2005)
Joe Buhler (8/1/1999 – 7/31/2001)
Michael Singer (8/1/2000 – 7/1/2002; Acting Director, 7/1/2002–7/1/2003)
Robert Megginson (7/1/2002 – 7/31/2004)
Hugo Rossi (8/1/2003 – 7/31/2007)
Julius Zelmanowitz (7/1/2006 – 6/30/2008)
Hélène Barcelo (7/1/2008 – unlimited term)

Associate Directors / Director of Educational and Outreach Activities:

Matthew Miller (8/11/2004 – 12/31/2004)
Lance Small (4/1/2005 – 4/1/2006)
Gadiel Seroussi (10/15/2005 – 7/31/2006)
Kathleen O'Hara (8/1/2006 – 7/31/2009)
David Auckly (8/1/2009 – 7/31/2011)

…and many other distinguished mathematicians and scientists.