At Perimeter, we tackle the big questions.
How did the universe begin? Where is it headed? Are space and time smooth or made up of tiny granules? What happens inside black holes? How many dimensions are there? Which comes first, matter or information? Where does mass come from? Are there new forces or kinds of matter we’ve yet to discover? The answers to these questions may change everything. Support the quest to achieve breakthroughs in our understanding.
Today’s physics is tomorrow’s technology.
History has proved this again and again. All wireless technologies – from radio to smartphones to remote sensing – are based on Maxwell’s unification of electricity and magnetism. Semiconductors, lasers, and solar cells are founded on discoveries in quantum mechanics. GPS relies on Einstein’s general relativity. It has been estimated that a quarter of all the wealth created in the 20th century flowed from basic physics. But that was the 20th century. Now, in the 21st, we need new ideas the next generation of breakthroughs.
A simple strategy
Ours strategy is simple: bring the best minds together in an inspiring environment, offer them unequalled research freedom, and enable them to focus on solving the deepest problems in theoretical physics. In so doing, Perimeter has become a magnet for the world’s top research talent. Take Perimeter Distinguished Research Chair William Unruh, Professor of Physics at the University of British Columbia, who has made seminal contributions, including the discovery of the Unruh effect. He is the recipient of many honours and awards, including the Canadian Association of Physicists Medal of Achievement and the Canada Council Killam Prize. He had this to say about Perimeter Institute:
In these days of economic crisis, many governments around the world are losing sight of the importance of fundamental, curiosity-driven research. They are much more likely to support research if it promises to solve immediate problems – not recognizing that addressing short-term issues often requires thinking about long-term problems.
Perimeter, by contrast, acts as a refuge, a supportive environment where people can carry out long-term fundamental research. For example, I do research on the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics, asking questions such as, “Why do black holes evaporate by emitting quantum radiation?” When Stephen Hawking discovered this phenomenon, it was treated as highly mysterious and believed to be unique to black holes. In 1981, I argued that this phenomenon is far from unique and that black holes in fact behave analogously to water waves at a river mouth. In both cases, incoming waves become amplified when they interact with outflowing energy. We can use similar equations to describe both situations.
Identifying analogues between seemingly unrelated systems like these can help explain the physical properties of one system in terms of the other. Not only do waves in a flowing fluid help us understand black holes, but black holes also help us understand the behaviour of waves in the ocean.
Perimeter resists doing only immediately relevant research, which makes it an island of sanity. It gives researchers like me the freedom to solve problems for the knowledge they give of how our world operates, whether in the far reaches of space or understanding our immediate world from a totally different direction.
— William Unruh