I am in a high-school auditorium in Waterloo, Ontario. Six hundred people are here for a lecture by Nobel laureate William Phillips. So is Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail and Mike Lazaridis, founder of Research in Motion. Lazaridis’ presence will turn out to be significant. Peggy Wente’s is merely a pleasant surprise.
I spent the day at Perimeter Institute gathering information about the theoretical-physics institute and the new guy who’ll be running it, Neil Turok (Inkless passim). I was told there’d be news tonight at the monthly public lecture. So there are an unusual number of swells from Ottawa and Toronto in the room tonight, in addition to the hundreds of ordinary Waterloo residents (Waterpudlians?) who pack every Perimeter event.
Suzanne Fortier, president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, is here for instance, giving Perimeter an award for its “outreach” to the public at large, students and teachers.
Before the night’s festivities kicked off, I was catching up on Aaron Wherry’s column when Lazaridis wandered by.
“The Prime Minister got a glass of water spilled on him today,” I said.
“That’s so exciting!” Lazaridis said, his tone of voice indicating skepticism.
“This is my life,” I said.
“It doesn’t have to be!” Lazaridis responded.
So the NSERC lady just gave John Matlock from Perimeter a medal for all the outreach stuff. The crowd applauds warmly. But that’s not the big announcement. It’s still ahead.
Ken MacDonald from Discovery Channel is announcing his network will begin broadcasting these Perimeter public lectures on the teevee. Ken used to be a Parliament Hill reporter, but he realized it didn’t have to be his life.
More warm applause, with the big announcement still ahead.
Rob Myers, Perimeter’s interim scientific director, is wearing a suit. This is a change because I saw him at Perimeter today in a polo shirt, so you know he’s making an effort. Myers is reminding everyone that Lazaridis launched Perimeter nearly a decade ago with $100 million of his own money. “That’s a one with a whole bunch of zeros,” says Myers, demonstrating a knack for science.
Now an Ontario cabinet minister with a voice uncannily like Steve Paikin’s is introducing Lazaridis. Gee, what can a man bring to the party when he’s already brought a whole bunch of zeros?
More zeros! John Wilkinson, Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation and Sounding Like Steve Paikin, announces that Lazaridis is making an additional $50 million donation to Perimeter.with the $50 million he gave to the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing a couple of years ago, that brings to $200 million his total donation to basic research in Waterloo.
Standing ovation. I write a lot about Perimeter, but it’s because I think what’s going on here in Waterloo is significant.
“Friends, this amazing adventure continues,” Lazaridis says. “It wasn’t much of a decision” to top up his Perimeter contribution by an additional 50 per cent.
“I hope you realize the role you played,” he tells the audience, in luring Neil Turok from Cambridge University to Perimeter: at a previous public lecture in this same high-school auditorium, Turok was, apparently, smitten with the reception he got.
The Blackberry kingpin is now in full science-evangelical mode; he is a better advocate for this stuff than many of the researchers he bankrolls, although I am given to understand they are better at string theory.
“You are a part of history,” he tells the crowd.
A good night all around.