Institute for Advanced Study

Institute for Advanced Study
Fuld Hall

The Institute for Advanced Study, located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States, is a center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. The Institute is perhaps best known as the academic home of Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern and Kurt Gödel, after their immigration to the United States. Other famous scholars who have worked at the institute include Alan Turing, Paul Dirac, Edward Witten, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Freeman Dyson, Julian Bigelow, Erwin Panofsky, Homer A. Thompson, George Kennan, Hermann Weyl, Stephen Smale, Atle Selberg, Clifford Geertz, Paul Erdős, Michael Atiyah, Erich Auerbach, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Michael Walzer, and Stephen Wolfram. There have subsequently been other Institutes of Advanced Study, which are based on a similar model.



There are no degree programs or experimental facilities at the Institute, and research is funded by endowments, grants and gifts — it does not support itself with tuition or fees. Research is never contracted or directed; it is left to each individual researcher to pursue his or her own goals.

It is not part of any educational institution; however, the proximity of Princeton University (less than two miles (3 km) from its science departments to the Institute complex) means that informal ties are close and a large number of collaborations have arisen over the years. (The Institute was actually housed within Princeton University—in the building since called Jones Hall, which was then Princeton's mathematics department—for 6 years, from its opening in 1933, until Fuld Hall was finished and opened in 1939. This helped start an incorrect impression that it was part of Princeton, one that has never been completely eradicated.)

The Institute has four Schools: Historical Studies, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Social Science, with a more recent program in systems biology. It consists of a permanent faculty of 28, and each year awards fellowships to 190 visiting Members, from over 100 universities and research institutions. Individuals apply to become Members at the Institute, and each of the Schools have their own application procedures and deadlines. Members are selected by the Faculty of each School from more than 1,500 applicants, and come to the Institute for periods from one term to a few years, most staying for one year. All Members, whether emerging scholars or scientists at the beginning of their careers or established researchers, are selected on the basis of their outstanding achievements and promise.


The Institute was founded in 1930 by Louis Bamberger and Caroline Bamberger Fuld with the proceeds from their department store in Newark, New Jersey. The founding of the institute was fraught with brushes against near-disaster; the Bamberger siblings pulled their money out of the market just before the Crash of 1929, and their original intent was to express their gratitude to the state of New Jersey through the founding of a medical school. It was the intervention of their friend Dr. Abraham Flexner, the prominent education theorist, that convinced them to put their money in the service of more abstract research. Growing anti-semitism at neighboring Princeton University[1] also helped to convince the Bambergers (who, like Flexner, were Jewish) that an independent institute might serve a useful role. Indeed, many of the Institute's original faculty were Jewish, soon including prominent scholars fleeing Nazi Europe such as Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Hermann Weyl (whose wife was Jewish), and, later, André Weil.[2]


The Institute's founding premise, that individuals with lifetime tenure and no assigned duties will produce the most outstanding scholarship, is not universally shared. For example,

The great scientists often make this error. They fail to continue to plant the little acorns from which the mighty oak trees grow. They try to get the big thing right off. And that isn't the way things go. So that is another reason why you find that when you get early recognition it seems to sterilize you. In fact I will give you my favorite quotation of many years. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, in my opinion, has ruined more good scientists than any institution has created, judged by what they did before they came and judged by what they did after. Not that they weren't good afterwards, but they were superb before they got there and were only good afterwards.[3]
Richard HammingYou and Your Research, 1986
When I was at Princeton in the 1940s I could see what happened to those great minds at the Institute for Advanced Study, who had been specially selected for their tremendous brains and were now given this opportunity to sit in this lovely house by the woods there, with no classes to teach, with no obligations whatsoever. These poor bastards could now sit and think clearly all by themselves, OK? So they don't get any ideas for a while: They have every opportunity to do something, and they're not getting any ideas. I believe that in a situation like this a kind of guilt or depression worms inside of you, and you begin to worry about not getting any ideas. And nothing happens. Still no ideas come. Nothing happens because there's not enough real activity and challenge: You're not in contact with the experimental guys. You don't have to think how to answer questions from the students. Nothing!

In 2000, the Institute sued in federal court, seeking to compel one of its tenured professors to resign on grounds of poor productivity (see Piet Hut). While this action may have been intended to counter views such as the above by demonstrating a corrective ability, it resulted in a wave of unfavorable publicity. The case was settled out of court, and Hut remained an Institute professor.[4]



The Institute has been the workplace of some of the most renowned thinkers in the world, including Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, Kurt Gödel, Clifford Geertz, T. D. Lee and C. N. Yang, J. Robert Oppenheimer, John von Neumann, Freeman J. Dyson, Hassler Whitney, André Weil, Hermann Weyl, Harish-Chandra, Joan W. Scott, Frank Wilczek, Edward Witten, Albert O. Hirschman, Nima Arkani-Hamed, George F. Kennan, and Yve-Alain Bois.

In addition to faculty, who have permanent appointments, scholars are appointed as "Members" of the Institute for a period of several months to several years. Some 190 members are now selected annually. This includes both younger and well-established natural scientists and social scientists. A Community of Scholars is a database of scholars and scientists affiliated with the Institute since its founding. While a basic listing of names and dates is publicly available, extended profiles are accessible to former Members, who can log in to update their own data and view more detailed information of their colleagues and/or other IAS-affiliated scholars.


  1. ^ James Axtell (2006) The Making of Princeton University: From Woodrow Wilson to the Present, Princeton University Press
  2. ^ Institute for Advanced Study, "Noted Figures at IAS"
  3. ^ Hamming, Richard (March 7, 1986). "You and Your Research". Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar. 
  4. ^ Robin Wilson, "The Professor Who Would Not Leave", The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 24, 2000

Further reading

  • Ed Regis, Who Got Einstein's Office: Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study (Addison-Wesley, Reading, 1987)
  • Björn Wittrock, Institutes for Advanced Study: Ideas, Histories, Rationales (pdf file)
  • Naomi Pasachoff, "Science's 'Intellectual Hotel': The Institute for Advanced Study," 1992 Encyclopædia Britannica Yearbook of Science and the Future, 472–488
  • Steve Batterson, "Pursuit of Genius: Flexner, Einstein, and the Early Faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study" (A. K. Peters, Ltd., Wellesley, MA, 2006)
  • Joan Wallach Scott and Debra Keates, eds., Schools of Thought: Twenty-five Years of Interpretive Social Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. A collection of reflective pieces by former fellows at the Institute's School for Social Science.
  • Institute for Advanced Study(pdf file) (Institute for Advanced Study, 2005). An historical overview of the Institute, published on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Institute and updated in 2009.

External links

Coordinates: 40°19′54″N 74°40′04″W / 40.33167°N 74.66778°W / 40.33167; -74.66778

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