Saturday, April 26, 2008

Leaps of Faith

Here's someone who understands the importance of basic, theoretical physics research - Mike Lazaridis, founder and co-CEO of Research in Motion (i.e. make of the Blackberry).

That's one reason why, in 1999, Lazaridis donated $100 million of his nascent fortune to seed the institute. Another, he says, is "because people take theoretical physics for granted." No kidding. This world of equations and chalk dust is about as far away as you can get from the world of commerce. Why anyone would hand over such a massive amount of money—at the time, close to one-fifth of Lazaridis's net worth—to a collection of wild-haired math freaks is lost on most of the folks on Bay Street. Sure, Lazaridis knows that quarterly earnings are important. (In its most recent quarter, RIM posted a higher-than-expected profit of $412.5 million and shipped 2.2 million new BlackBerrys, the first time in the company's history that it broke through the two-million-mark in a quarter.) But he also knows that without the kind of work being done at Perimeter, chances are slim that someone will develop another world-beating technology like RIM's 60 or 80 years down the line.

Many of the CEO's of major technological and electronics companies are aware of this. The question is, do the general public and the politicians know this?


1 comment:

Kent Leung said...

Great article! Perhaps I should quote another important paragraph from it:

"I had an amazing physics teacher," Lazaridis remembers. "He said, 'During the day, I'm going to teach you the curriculum, but I'm going to hold a night course once a week, and I'll talk about the latest developments.'" The result was a sort of Dead Poets Society, a close-knit group of Waterloo students who spent their evenings learning about the latest developments in string theory—guys like Alain Aspect, who was by then working with crystals to produce entangled photons. "I couldn't believe my ears," Lazaridis says. "We really got turned on during that time."