This article from yesterday's Globe and Mail highlights Canada's emergence as
an international Research and Development powerhouse. Link:
Cambridge scientist to take Canada to cutting edge of physics theory
RIM co-founder stages a coup in persuading award-winning researcher to head institute
May 10, 2008
Research in Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis has wooed a high-profile Cambridge professor to lead his Perimeter Institute, a move he describes as a coup for Canada and for the study of theoretical physics worldwide.
Neil Turok, a native of South Africa who has worked alongside Stephen Hawking and is director of Cambridge's Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, was named yesterday as executive director of the institute in Waterloo, Ont., a research powerhouse set up in 1999 with a $100-million gift from the man whose firm developed the BlackBerry.
Dr. Turok, 49, said the decision to move to Canada was fairly easy, given the Perimeter Institute's financial backing and its "clear mission to do pure science with few constraints."
"PI has a marvellously ambitious plan and it has the resources to follow it," Dr. Turok said in a phone interview from Cape Town, where he has established an institute to promote postgraduate studies in math and science across Africa.
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"There is nowhere else in the world with its commitment to pure theoretical physics and to attacking the hardest and most fundamental questions in the field," the award-winning professor said. Before moving to Cambridge, he was a professor of physics at Princeton University.
Dr. Turok said he hopes his departure from Cambridge will be a wakeup call to the university and Britain's funding bodies about the importance of supporting pure scientific research.
"The entire physics community in the U.K. have been frustrated by the narrow-minded philosophy of the funding councils for quite a long time," he said.
In contrast, he said the Perimeter Institute has a long-term vision and what he described as a "freewheeling spirit" that gives researchers the opportunity to pursue breakthrough discoveries on the scale of Newton or Einstein.
This provides Canada with the opportunity to stand out as a "centre of enlightenment" at a time when other countries are placing less priority on basic physics, he said.
Melanie Campbell, a physics professor at the University of Waterloo and past president of the Canadian Association of Physicists, said Canada has gained international recognition for its discovery grants program, which gives scientists in all fields more flexibility in their research.
Mr. Lazaridis - an impassioned advocate for the importance of basic science - has played an important role in this regard, she said. His business success and his large gifts to support research give his message added weight with governments, Dr. Campbell said. "It makes more of an impact coming from him."
In addition, she said, the work of the Perimeter Institute, which includes monthly public lectures that fill a 500-seat auditorium and outreach programs to high-school students, has raised interest in physics and all sciences.
Mr. Lazaridis, who headed the international search for the post, said his hope is that the work led by Dr. Turok will have benefits that go well beyond the Perimeter Institute and Canada.
"Our main goal is to support the effort of theoretical physics on a world scale. This is a coup for all of theoretical physics in the world," he said in an interview yesterday.
Dr. Turok will replace Howard Burton, the founding executive director of the institute.
Dr. Hawking, who has collaborated with Dr. Turok on research examining the birth of universes, said he has been impressed by his insight and originality. "The combination of Neil and PI is brilliant and holds great promise for the future," he said in a statement.
Dr. Turok, who will take his post in October, said he hopes to soon establish a kind of hothouse program for promising young scientists. The 10-month program will "jump people to the cutting edge of theoretical physics as quickly as possible," he said.