All Posts Tagged With: "Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics"
Waterloo aims to capitalize on emerging field
BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin say they have established a $100-million fund for the development and commercialization of quantum computing.
They say the new Quantum Valley Investments fund in Waterloo, Ont., will be a catalyst for breakthroughs in an emerging field that could revolutionize information technology.
The two men collaborated to found the company formerly known as Research In Motion, which recently changed its name to BlackBerry (TSX:BB) in keeping with its main product line.
Lazaridis has already been a driving force behind the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, which was conceived as a world-leading centre for research.
He and Fregin say they believe the new fund will complement the institute’s work and could lead to the creation of new industries and jobs in the Waterloo region.
A physics video, a lawsuit over a B+ and an unfunny Joker
1. A new video funded partly by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo is calling on Barack Obama to improve physics education. The video is spreading surprisingly quickly, approaching 320,000 views already. “High school physics students across most of America aren’t required to learn any physics discovered since 1865,” says the narrator, who then lists off some of the discoveries since then, including photons, the existence of antimatter, MRIs, the big bang… you know, little things.
2. A 41-year-old student at Concordia University is doing what so many students feel powerless to do—challenging a grade he sees as unjust. William Groombridge is suing over a B-plus he got in his energy policy course that he says should have been an A-minus. He wants a refund of the course, alleging that the school school arbitrarily downgraded his final mark to meet an unofficial grade quota or bell curve. More in the Spectator.
3. Police in Boulder, Colo. arrested a 17-year-old who showed up at a cinema wearing a Batman Joker mask. He scared patrons who were reminded of James Holmes, the man who killed 12 people and injured 58 others at a Colorado premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. More in the Daily Camera.
Not always. Some things matter more than class size.
From the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings
It’s 11:30 a.m. and this is how the morning has gone for the 71 students in Science One at the University of British Columbia—one of the rare small-class programs that brings big universities down to a more human scale. It started with a physics mid-term, which most of these high achievers feel good about. Then a quick, unscripted shift into biology. Projected on the classroom screens was a story from that morning’s headlines about a massive phytoplankton bloom off the B.C. coast caused by a program that seeded the ocean with iron sulphate in hopes of building a salmon food source. Chemistry instructor Chris Addison happily ceded time to biologist Celeste Leander so students could discuss what she called the “justifiable concerns” of messing with the ocean environment.
That diversion is what Addison calls a “typical Science One moment.” Seated at the back of the room were other instructors in this holistic program—a physicist, a couple of biologists and a mathematician—all welcome to contribute. Instructors try to sit in on as many other classes as possible, said Addison. “That’s where you get the interplay between the disciplines.” Addison then waded into a mini-lecture on energy levels in multi-electron atoms, before the class split into groups of about six to work through a series of questions. They debated the answers among themselves, knowing they’d have to justify their reasons before the full class, if called upon. Amir Ashtari, 17, prefers the small class size to the usual first-year prospect of packed lecture halls. “Here you are amongst a group of friends who are respectful to you and also who are smart,” he said. “Even if you ask a stupid question they come and help you.” Hanne Collins, 18, said she likes the accessibility of instructors, and that they know her name. “Their doors are open and if you have a question, you just walk in,” she said. “They’re not bogged down with 500 students.”
What the big thinkers know, what they’re trying to learn, and how close we may be to a genuine revolution
Not even the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., is immune to the rhythms of the seasons. Summer there this year was quiet and casual, with several regular faces away on vacation. And yet there were plenty of signs that the little think tank is heading into an ambitious new era.
Stephen Hawking was on a six-week working visit from Cambridge, England. Every day you could see a caregiver pushing his wheelchair along the footpaths outside the building at surprising speed. The most famous scientist in the world does not like to dawdle. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has left him no control over most of his body. Twitching a cheek muscle to compose even a short sentence with his speech synthesizer can take 20 minutes. So he is keenly aware of wasted time. “I encouraged lots of people to go and talk to him,” Neil Turok, Perimeter’s South African director and a Hawking friend and colleague of long standing, told me.
“A lot of people did. Several of them came away saying, ‘I went and explained to him what I’m doing—and he didn’t seem very interested!’ I entirely sympathize with him. He has very high standards and if you start telling him something that doesn’t sound plausible he’ll very quickly tell you, ‘I’ve had enough.’ ”
Leonard Susskind, a white-bearded and soft-spoken Stanford University prof, was on a similar extended visit. Susskind has no human story of physical courage to match Hawking’s, but to physicists he is in Hawking’s intellectual class. He is a pioneer in the surreal but influential field of string theory, which describes a universe made of tiny vibrating strings curled up across many more dimensions than the three we know. Hawking and Susskind are two of Perimeter’s 20 Distinguished Research Chairs, eminent international theorists who visit Waterloo occasionally to work without the distractions of home.
Susskind spent much of his time in the third-floor lounge surrounded by groups of young scientists still in graduate school or fresh out. They would show Susskind their work, neat lines of equations on notepaper or hectic scrawls on the lounge’s blackboard. (Perimeter has hundreds of blackboards, in every office, conference room and coffee nook. They all get a lot of use.) Susskind’s questions would make his young visitors stare at the paper or blackboard for long minutes, as if hoping an answer would appear.
The day I arrived, the inaugural class of Perimeter Scholars International (PSI), an intensive master’s-level course in theoretical physics for students from around the world, held their convocation after a year’s intensive study. One of the most impressive was Bruno Le Floch, a 20-year-old ponytailed Frenchman who was one of the younger students in his class. “He’s just a genius,” Turok said. But he is also just a kid. So rather than dive into a theory career, Le Floch will spend the next year teaching in Cape Town at the African Institute for Mathematical Studies, which Turok founded in hopes of giving Africa’s best students a reason to stay at home and lead the continent’s intellectual development.
One day Stephen Harper visited Perimeter to announce a $20-million federal investment in Turok’s African initiative. One rarely has to wait long at Perimeter before somebody comes along with a gift of money. Often the visitor is a local boy who made good, Mike Lazaridis, the founder and co-CEO of Research in Motion.
Years ago, Lazaridis decided to put much of his fortune into an institute that would study the questions that fascinated him when he was a University of Waterloo engineering student. On one hand, Einstein’s theories of space, time and gravity. On the other, the odd but powerful insights of quantum mechanics. In 2000, with $100 million from Lazaridis and $20 million from two other RIM partners, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics set up shop in the old post office building on King Street.
Since then it has grown steadily. In 2004, Perimeter moved into a slate-black 6,000-sq.-m building on the shore of Silver Lake in Waterloo Park. Already this summer, work crews were building an extension that will nearly double the institute’s floor space. Its faculty size will triple.
(Current full-time faculty is only 11, but if you add faculty it shares with area universities, visiting scholars, post-docs and graduate students, there are about 100 people thinking in the building on an ordinary day, and often about as many stopping through for a conference or seminar.) Enrolment at Perimeter Scholars International will double. The Distinguished Research Chairs will grow in number to 30.
But what do the people at Perimeter actually do? Many assume the institute must be the research and development branch of Research in Motion. This is not even remotely true. There are no laboratories at Perimeter. It has no equipment for manufacturing anything. There is very little in the sleek four-storey building except boxes of chalk and an excellent bistro.
But establishing what the Perimeter theorists don’t do is easier than explaining what they do.
Even they have learned to leave it vague. “When the neighbours ask, I say I just want to understand why the universe works the way it does,” said Chris Fuchs, a tremendously engaging Texan who has been a visiting scholar at Perimeter since 2007. “And that’s when they usually say, ‘Isn’t it great that Stephen Hawking’s there?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, it is.’ ”
What Perimeter’s theorists do is think, singly and in groups. Sometimes they scribble equations on the chalkboards to enlist colleagues and visitors in their attempts to solve some new or nagging riddle. Once I passed Fuchs’s office on my way to the third-floor pop machine. He was staring intently, slack-jawed, at the chalkboard that makes up one wall of his office. When I returned 20 minutes later he had not moved.
What they think about, from assorted conceptual angles that make up the subdisciplines of modern theoretical physics, are ways to refine, extend and, ideally, reconcile the two great early 20th-century advances in physics—general relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity refers to Albert Einstein’s realization that space and time are aspects of the same thing, as are matter and energy. Einstein described how massive bodies like stars warp the space-time around them, bending the fabric of existence in a way we experience as gravity.
Quantum mechanics is the product of research into the behaviour of the component parts of atoms by Einstein’s contemporaries—Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger and others. What they found is so odd it still puzzles physicists. A particle can sometimes be in one place and, in a way, somewhere else at the same time. Observing a particle to find out where it is destroys any chance of knowing for sure where it’s going. Two particles can become “entangled” so that a change to one particle will be reflected in a change to the other, no matter how distant.
In nearly a century of investigation, researchers have made great use of these odd insights. Electronics depends on the quantum behaviour of electrons moving through semiconductors. The same phenomena drive lasers, DVD players, computers, electron microscopes. The Nobel-winning physicist Leon Lederman has said that quantum mechanics is responsible for one-third of U.S. GDP.
PM announces 70 post-doctoral scholarships
Stephen Harper dropped in on famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking on Tuesday bearing scholarly gifts — a new post-doctoral scholarship for Canada. The prime minister announced 70 fellowships a year will be awarded, with a total value of $45 million over five years.
“We must invest in the people and ideas that will produce tomorrow’s breakthroughs,” Harper said. “The Banting post-doctoral fellowships will give scholars in research institutions across the country the support they need to explore and develop their ideas to the fullest.”
Hawking took up residence at the Perimeter Institute for theoretical physics last month and will continue his work through July. Harper thanked Hawking for coming to the institute and praised him as an “inspiration” to Canadian scientists. Hawking was to have visited the southwestern Ontario institute last summer as a research chair but illness forced him to cancel. The research institute is a public-private partnership that receives funding from the Canadian and Ontario governments as well as individual donors.
The author of “A Brief History of Time” retired from Cambridge University in England last year at age 67.
Harper also announced $20 million to help establish five science, math and technology centres in Africa. “This is a revolutionary approach to development,” the prime minister said. “It aims to nurture the brightest minds in Africa.”
The Canadian Press
Renowned physicist to spend six-weeks at Perimeter Institute
British physicist Stephen Hawking used his first public speech in Canada to talk about the mystery of the origin of the universe. The world’s most famous living scientist also talked about his life, his work and his influences at Waterloo, Ont.’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics on Sunday.
The Big Bang theory, the creation of galaxies and his passion for cosmology were among the topics Hawking covered using graphics, photos and humour. “The no boundary proposal means that one can picture the origin of the universe as being like the formation of bubbles and steam in boiling water,” said Hawking, who was named a research chair at the institute.
“Quantum fluctuations lead to the spontaneous creation of tiny universes out of nothing,” he said. “Most of the universes collapse to nothing but a few that reach a critical size will expand in an inflationary manner and will form galaxies and stars and maybe beings like us.”
Hawking also spoke about his early days at the University of Cambridge. When he was originally diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, he didn’t expect to live to complete his PhD, but his disease didn’t initially progress and “things picked up,” he said.
The invitation-only speech was attended by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Industry Minister Tony Clement, Research in Motion co-founder and Perimeter Institute founder Mike Lazaridis as well as scientists, students and other Hawking fans.
Flaherty said he found the speech fascinating. “He’s trying to summarize a life of research in 50 or 60 years in less than an hour or little more than an hour. The time just flew,” he said. “It was fascinating the people he worked with over the years and the development of theories that changed the world.”
Neil Turok, director of the institute, has been friends with the renowned scientist for years and said it is “brilliant” having him visit for six weeks. “It’s hard to take it all in,” Turok said. “It’s very emotional for me for him to come here and bring his endorsement, his enthusiasm to the Perimeter Institute,” he said.
While at the institute, Hawking is developing a model of the beginning of the universe, said Turok. A conference was held at the institute with leading experts from all over the world last week. Hawking and other scientists are struggling with “difficult notions” about the beginning of time and trying to predict what the next generation of experiments will find. Initially, Hawking was to begin his part-time research post at the Perimeter Institute last summer but was delayed due to health problems.
Hawking received a standing ovation at the conclusion of Sunday’s event which was taped for broadcast on TV Ontario. Two high school students who won the institute’s “I Love Science” contest to attend the speech were in awe. “I thought it was phenomenal,” said Allison Carter, 16, of Calgary, who admitted she was star struck. “In one of the essay books that I have there is a very similar essay and it was really neat to hear it in person.”
Parastoo Abtahi, 17, of Richmond Hill north of Toronto, said the speech was fabulous. Her favourite part of the speech was when Hawking was talking about black holes, she said. “It was really good to see him in person,” she said. “The whole idea of meeting him was a dream.”
The Canadian Press
Physics giant to join Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute
Canada’s profile in the international physics community got a huge boost Thursday as renowned “superstar” cosmologist Stephen Hawking accepted a research post at the country’s “crown jewel” of theoretical physics study.
Hawking will hold the title of distinguished research chair at the prestigious Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. The role will see him make regular visits to Waterloo, Ont. beginning next summer.
“The appointment marks a new phase in our recruitment that will see leading scientists from around the world establish a second research home at Perimeter Institute,” said institute director Neil Turok.
“I am delighted that Stephen has agreed to accept the first of a projected 40 such visiting chairs.”
Shelley Page, the president of the Canadian Association of Physicists, said it’s an exciting development for the physics community and for the country as a whole to have such a great mind coming to Canada.
“He’s one of the few sort of recognized physics superstars,” Page said.
“Stephen Hawking is probably one of the most famous contemporary theoretical physicists. He’s sort of a household name, which is a feat in and of itself in such an abstract and theoretical discipline.”
Having someone like Hawking associated with the Perimeter Institute, which Page called the “crown jewel in our theoretical physics resource portfolio,” will serve to increase Canada’s standing in the global physics community.
“That will just further help to attract even more prestigious international theorists to work in Canada,” she said.
Rumours in the summer that Hawking would be moving to Canada were discounted by his aides at the time.