Perimeter Institute began as a bold idea to strategically invest in foundational physics, which is at the root of new technologies and new scientific knowledge. The vision was radical, yet simple: build an environment to foster breakthroughs that will transform our future, while sharing the power of science with the world. Learn more about Perimeter’s history below.
Perimeter was first envisioned by Mike Lazaridis, founder of Research In Motion (RIM) and a leader in the smartphone revolution. Lazaridis was struck by the realization that so many of today’s technologies (including computers, GPS, solar cells, wireless transmissions, and diagnostic imaging) are rooted in theoretical physics breakthroughs.
In 1999, Lazaridis decided to give $100 million – one third of his fortune – to establish a world-class institute devoted entirely to theoretical physics discovery. He hired Howard Burton as Perimeter’s founding Director and formed a Board of Directors, and Perimeter was born.
Perimeter Institute was officially launched on October 23, 2000.
A Scientific Advisory Committee of eight eminent international scientists was established to provide counsel and oversight. The City of Waterloo offered a prime site in Uptown Waterloo – which formerly housed the Waterloo Memorial Arena – on which Perimeter’s dedicated facility would be built.
Research operations began in October 2001 with a core scientific staff of nine internationally recognized scientists, which expanded to 24 over the next year.
In 2002, the governments of Ontario and Canada committed $15 million and $25 million, respectively, to support Perimeter’s activities. Successive provincial and federal governments have continued to renew funding to this day. Perimeter also received infrastructure grants from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Innovation Trust.
The Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo was founded in 2002, with one of Perimeter’s founding faculty members, Raymond Laflamme, serving as its first Director. IQC is dedicated to advancing the field of quantum information and the development of quantum technologies. A rich history of research collaboration between Perimeter and IQC continues to the present day.
The doors to Perimeter’s custom-built facility, a 65,000-square-foot building designed by Saucier + Perotte, opened in October 2004.
In 2005, Perimeter hosted EinsteinFest during the International Year of Physics. It was the biggest celebration of Einstein’s centenary in the world, with more than 28,000 attendees. It was Perimeter’s first big public science outreach event, inaugurating a tradition that continues today.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada led an independent assessment in 2006 of Perimeter’s scientific research and educational outreach activity since inception. They noted: “PI has been a great success on a world-wide scientific scale, for Canadian science, and for education and outreach. A number of major research achievements can be attributed directly to the existence of PI.”
In May 2007, founding Director Howard Burton left to pursue other interests, and founding Faculty member Robert Myers was named Interim Director.
Renowned cosmologist Neil Turok was appointed as Perimeter’s Director in May 2008, leaving a post as Chair of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University. Turok received the 2008 TED Prize, where he spoke about the importance of supporting math and science in Africa.
Later in 2008, Stephen Hawking joined as Perimeter’s first Distinguished Visiting Research Chair, followed by nine more eminent researchers in the next year.
2009–2010 was a period of intense growth, including an expansion of Perimeter’s research focus, recruitment of new researchers, scaled up outreach programs, and the launch of Perimeter Scholars International, an innovative master’s-level program.
Perimeter’s Teacher Network, a connection hub that provides high school science teachers with training and resources to share with other educators via professional development workshops, was also launched in 2009. Perimeter hosted the Quantum to Cosmos science outreach festival in October 2009, which attracted more than 40,000 attendees in person and more than a million viewers online.
In September 2011, Perimeter opened the doors to the new Stephen Hawking Centre expansion, which doubled the square footage of the existing facility.
Also in 2011, KPMG led an independent, third-party review of Perimeter’s research, training, and outreach initiatives, concluding that “research conducted within PI’s core fields are of great importance… some of the research is reaching groundbreaking, revolutionary, and transformative levels.”
The BrainSTEM “unconference” was hosted in June 2012. This collaboration between Perimeter and Communitech was designed to connect leaders in digital media, science, and education. That fall, Neil Turok delivered the 2012 CBC Massey Lectures to sold-out audiences across Canada.
In 2013, Neil Turok was re-appointed as Director for a second five-year term. The first Emmy Noether Fellowships were created to support early- and mid-career women physicists by immersing them in Perimeter’s research environment for extended periods.
An independent international study from the Max Planck Society in Germany undertaken in 2013 ranked Perimeter fifth overall in research excellence in physics, and second in theoretical physics, behind only Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study.
As part of a long-running global outreach effort, in 2013, Perimeter partnered with the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences at the University of Toronto to fund joint postdoctoral fellowships for African nationals. Perimeter also leveraged the expertise of research and administrative staff in support of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences – Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI), helping to plan the start-up of AIMS centres in Cameroon and Tanzania.
And in 2015, Perimeter expanded the scope of its global outreach efforts with a new partnership with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics – South American Institute for Fundamental Research (ICTP-SAIFR) to encourage research exchanges, joint scientific conferences, workshops for emerging South American scientists, and educational programs for schools across South America.
Perimeter also launched the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Initiative, one of several specialized, strategically chosen initiatives aimed at accelerating progress in areas of high promise. The initiative was designed to be the world’s foremost hub for analyzing the torrent of data from the EHT – and on April 10, 2019, the investment paid off when the EHT released the landmark first image of a black hole.
In 2016, Perimeter was chosen as the lead partner of Innovation150, a signature initiative of Canada 150, the nationwide celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary. Working with four other leading Canadian outreach partners (Actua, IQC at the University of Waterloo, Ingenium, and the Canadian Association of Science Centres), Perimeter developed content to celebrate Canadian ingenuity. Throughout 2017, the Power of Ideas National Tour crossed Canada with a travelling exhibition, presentations, and activities designed to inspire the next generation of innovators. The tour reached more than 100,000 visitors in more than 190 communities, including many remote and rural locations.
KPMG followed up on its 2011 evaluation with another report in 2016, concluding, “Perimeter has successfully positioned Canada as a world leader in theoretical physics research, and its influence on Canada’s reputation in foundational theoretical physics is significantly higher than just five years ago.”
In November 2017, Perimeter launched the Centre for the Universe, a major initiative and global focal point for cross-disciplinary research into key questions in cosmology.
Perimeter ramped up efforts to support greater diversity in physics in 2018, with the formation of the grassroots Inclusive PI Platform, followed by the appointment of its first Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Specialist.
Robert Myers was named the Institute’s new Director in 2019 after an exhaustive international search. The Perimeter Scholars International master’s program celebrated its tenth graduating class. And the inaugural Undergraduate Theoretical Physics Summer Program at Perimeter Institute launched, giving top undergrads research experience.
In 2020, Perimeter initiated an institute-wide strategic plan for inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility, in partnership with Shift Health.
And in October 2020, Perimeter launched the Clay Riddell Centre for Quantum Matter, a research hub focused on uncovering completely new states of matter.
2021 and beyond
To learn more about Perimeter’s current activities, visit perimeterinstitute.ca/news.