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Big job, long title


By Matin Durrani

The BMO Financial Group Isaac Newton Chair in Theoretical Physics at Perimeter Institute.

It’s a bit of a mouthful, but sooner or later someone – in fact “a scientist of the very highest international calibre” – will have to squeeze that title onto their business card.

That shouldn’t be a problem though as the BMO Financial Group Isaac Newton Chair in Theoretical Physics at Perimeter Institute comes with $4m of funding from the BMO Financial Group, or what used to be the Bank of Montreal. So there ought to be plenty of loose change hanging around for a nice set of cards.

The whopping $4m investment – said to be the biggest in the Perimeter Institute’s 10-year history – will be matched by $4m from the institute’s existing endowment.

The BMO Financial Group Isaac Newton Chair in Theoretical Physics at Perimeter Institute will in fact be just the first of five new top chairs, with the others named in honour of James Clerk Maxwell, Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein and Paul Dirac.

In case you missed it, the Perimeter Institute is based in Waterloo, Ontario, and was founded in 1999 by local-boy-made-good Mike Lazaridis, who made his fortune as the founder of Research in Motion – the company that makes Blackberry handheld devices.

The institute, which is keen to attract the brightest and best theorists from around the world, is already undergoing a huge expansion that will see it doubling in size by autumn 2011 with the opening of the Stephen Hawking Centre. Hawking’s already been over as one of the Perimeter’s 20 “distinguished research chairs” after retiring from Cambridge University.

The centre will see Perimeter expanding from its bases in quantum theory, quantum fundamentals, quantum gravity and string theory out into condensed-matter physics, particle physics, cosmology and complex systems.

As for what the BMO Financial Group Isaac Newton Chair in Theoretical Physics at Perimeter Institute will do during their 10-year stint, well, they’ll be “free to engage in investigator-driven research, without limits or mandates”.

But if you’re thinking of applying, don’t. The chair will be “identified through a highly competitive international search, and only scientists of the highest international calibre will be considered”.

Still, it would be nice to think the future chair is reading this right now.

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  1. Hamish Johnston

    Long before Waterloo was famous for theoretical physics, it was well-known for making chairs (the kind you sit on).
    I assumed that such manufacturing was no longer part of the city’s “knowledge economy”, but I was wrong. There is at least one firm in Waterloo still at it, Hauser.
    Let’s hope the PI chooses a locally-built chair for its new chair.

  2. John Duffield

    I’ve just been having a look at The Perimeter Institute and What we research. Quantum gravity. Superstring Theory. Hmmn. How long have those theoretical hypotheses been going now? We hear an awful lot about the Perimeter Institute, but does anybody know of any actual advances in physics that have come from there?
    I am reminded of those celebrity self-publicists who say nobody knows when it just isn’t true. You know the sort, they push their books with time travel, the multiverse, and similar cargo-cult mysticism. They’re like erudite feudal knights in shining armour, enjoying fame and fortune from the search for the holy grail. If you led them to your lab and threw open the doors to reveal the light, they would be deliberately unimpressed. There it sits, spouting forth the lifeblood that cures all known ills. There’s a halo around it, the holy ghost shimmers and coruscates above, and it’s all backed up by a choir of heavenly angels. But then those knights in shining armour turn to one another and shake their heads with absolute authority. No, they say. That’s not the holy grail.
    Newton’s interest in Opticks is nothing to those who promote themselves as “the highest international calibre”, and who would gladly declare themselves the sole custodians of contemporary physics. So if they get their hands on CMP and photonics and optics, take care.


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