Friday, June 6, 2008

Philanthropy and science

Philanthropy and science. The need for and reasons why are more complex than one would think. Tune into just about any PBS science program and there will be a verbal and/or visual list of sponsors--from the well known corporate institutions to private family or husband/wife participation. Why do these philanthropic organizations participate with particular programs? Who knows. Walk around a large university and seen buildings named after organizations or individuals associated with the sciences. Take a look at a university catalog listing grants or scholarships involving the sciences. Again, why? Again, the answer on the surface is probably unknown. Those philanthropic organizations may have some personal tie with the branch of science, interested in perpetuating the family name, or just have a genuine love of that science. But the reasons are really unimportant to the general public. The point is, the funds are there for buildings, laboratories, research, staff, grants, and scholarships...and specialized television programing. Research revealed no statistics regarding the multitude of funding, but whatever is given is certainly appreciated for the rewards of private and corporate funding will yield huge benefits of technology for humanity.

Most recent:

"$50 Million More to Physics Institute"


Dennis Overbye

June 5th, 2008

The New York Times

The ubiquitous Blackberry has been good for Canadian physics. Mike Lazaridis, founder and co-chairman of the Blackberry’s maker, Research in Motion, announced Wednesday night that he was donating an additional $50 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. Mr. Lazaridis attended college in Waterloo before dropping out in 1984 to start RIM. In 2000 he founded the physics institute, which has done pioneering work in quantum information and quantum gravity. His new gift brings his total contributions to $150 million.

"Neil Turok chosen to lead Perimeter Institute"


Hamish Johnston

May 9, 2008

The cosmologist Neil Turok will be the next executive director of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, taking over in October. Turok, who is currently Chair of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge in the UK, described the move as the "opportunity of a lifetime" and told that he plans to make the institute "the leading centre in the world for theoretical physics".

The Perimeter Institute (PI) was founded in 1999 by Mike Lazaridis, chief executive of Research in Motion — the company that makes Blackberry wireless handheld devices. Located in Waterloo, Ontario, and home to more than 60 resident researchers, the institute focuses on fundamental questions in areas such as cosmology, particle physics and quantum gravity. Its first executive director Howard Burton, left suddenly in June 2007 and the Canadian theoretical physicist Robert Myers has been acting as interim director while the institute looked for a new head.

More international perspective

Turok told that one of his goals will be to give the institute a more "international perspective" by attracting "the most brilliant students and researchers from around the world".

He will work with local universities to expand the institute's graduate teaching, making it "the best graduate programme in fundamental theoretical physics". Turok also has plans for a "pre-PhD programme", which would invite undergraduate students from all over the world and expose them to how theoretical physics is done. "Often undergraduates are not prepared for doing research, they are mostly prepared for passing exams", he said.

Turok is looking forward to the intellectual freedom that the institute offers. "What Mike [Lazaridis] has done is to bring a breath of fresh air into theoretical physics”, he said.
Importance of basic science

Lazaridis himself told "The more I got to know Dr Turok, the more conviction I had that he was the right person to take Perimeter to the next level". "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", he added.

Born in South Africa in 1958, Turok founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town, which supports the development of mathematics and science research and education across Africa. In addition to his work on the polarization of the cosmic microwave background, Turok has also developed a cyclic model of the universe with Paul Steinhardt at Princeton University.

Turok's colleague at Cambridge, Stephen Hawking, said of his appointment: "The combination of Neil and PI is brilliant and holds great promise for the future".

Mike Lazaridis

"A cool $50m for theoretical physics"


Hamish Johnston

June 5th, 2008

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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