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Could Blackberry woes affect physics institute?

Artist’s impression of the new Stephen Hawking Centre at the
Perimeter Institute, which will open in September. (Courtesy: PI)

By Hamish Johnston

Over the last decade the sleepy city of Waterloo, Ontario, has become a hotbed of theoretical physicists.

About 60 miles west of Toronto, the city is home to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI). The PI counts Stephen Hawking as one of its visiting fellows and is also home to about 80 resident physicists – many of whom are household names in the physics community. The PI is also taking an innovative approach to training the next generation of theorists in its Perimeter Scholars International masters level course.

All of this is possible thanks to the generosity of Mike Lazaridus, who made his money by founding and running Research in Motion (RIM). The firm makes the Blackberry smartphone and its fortunes soared in the 2000s as the Blackberry became the must-have business tool.

Lazaridus has donated a whopping $170m to the PI, which he set up in 1999, and two other RIM executives have chipped in $40m more. Compare this to the $180m donated by the Canadian and Ontario governments and it is easy to conclude that the future success of PI and RIM will be linked.

That’s worrying because it seems that company’s heyday may be over, at least according to a market analyst writing in Canadian Business. Henry Blodget points out that the firm’s market share is dropping and tries to explain why.

While I don’t wish any ill on RIM, PI or Waterloo, I’m afraid that I agree with Blodget. Indeed, next to an iPhone a Blackberry looks like something, well, from the last decade. Let’s hope the same fate doesn’t befall the PI, which has done a fantastic job of boosting the profile of physics in both Canada and beyond.

Of course not everyone agrees with Blodget and Canadian Business has published an article taking the opposite viewpoint entitled Long live RIM.

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One comment to Could Blackberry woes affect physics institute?

  1. Hi Hamish,
    Some clarity on Perimeter Institute funding may be helpful, given the support is not from RIM. The funding is much broader, deeper and long lasting than many assume.
    PI is propelled by a unique and successful public-private partnership involving many participants and ongoing investments. Just this past March, the Province of Ontario committed an additional $50m. Similarly, the federal Government of Canada signaled its intention to renew investment of $50m in the near future. In addition, the ‘Expanding the Perimeter’ advancement initiative is building endowment and broadening the base of private support. This involves a wide range of corporate and personal donors who highly value the importance of theoretical physics. For example, a major Canadian bank has committed significant funding toward a research chair, while another financial institution is supporting outreach activities, specifically the popular PI Public Lecture Series. More announcements can be expected.
    The increase in partners and growing investments are building upon the vision and personal generosity of Mike Lazaridis, positioning PI for the long term. In fact, the public-private partnership is widely viewed by many as a successful model for groups in other fields of endeavour.
    Thanks for allowing me to share this larger picture.
    John Matlock
    Director of External Relations and Communications
    Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada


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