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A cool $50m for theoretical physics


By Hamish Johnston

In my line of work I don’t usually get to talk to multi-millionaires — but a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking with high-tech magnate Mike Lazaridis, who made his fortune developing the Blackberry handheld email/mobile phone device.

Lazaridis and I were in a conference call with Neil Turok, one of the world’s leading cosmologists who had just been enticed by Lazaridis to leave Cambridge and become executive director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

The institute was founded in 2000 by Lazaridis who put up about CDN$100m of his own money. Now, Lazardis has donated a further $50m to Perimeter.

If you count the millions that he and his wife have given to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the nearby University of Waterloo, Lazaridis (who is not a physicist) has spent an amazing $200m on physics research!

When I asked Lazaridis why Turok was the right person to lead the institute he said: “We share deep convictions in the importance of basic science, the importance of funding basic science, and the importance of philanthropy in promoting basic science for the advancement of mankind”.

Lazaridis is one of a small but growing number of benefactors with deep convictions and deep pockets when it comes to the more esoteric disciplines of physics such as cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics.

Just two weeks ago an anonymous benefactor donated $5m to Fermilab, which has been particulalry hard hit by US government cuts on physics spending.

And staying with the topic of funding cuts, during our conversation Turok told me that recent cutbacks in the UK made Perimeter’s offer all the more attractive — something that he has discussed in great detail in a recent interview with the Times.

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