three researchers discussing in front of a blackboard in the sky room

Why theoretical physics

Perimeter Institute is a major centre for theoretical physics research, attracting a diverse community of resident and visiting scientists from around the world. Driven by curiosity, they forge new ideas about space, time, matter, and the ultimate nature of our universe, seeking to unlock its most profound secrets.

Diagram illustrating Perimeter Institute's 9 research areas

 

Perimeter’s nine research fields were chosen strategically to combine our most important insights into the basic laws governing the universe – from subatomic scales, through the table-top scales of condensed matter systems, to the description of the entire cosmos. Our emphasis on ambitious, unconstrained scientific enquiry has led to a vibrant, growing research community.

Technologies Build on Theoretical Physics

Theoretical physics is perhaps the highest-impact, lowest-cost area of basic research. The field advances our fundamental understanding of the universe and seeds the technologies of tomorrow. Solar cells, computers, wireless technologies, and diagnostic imaging are all rooted in breakthroughs made by theoretical physicists. The reason is simple: technology relies on the laws of nature, so a better understanding of those laws allows us to create more powerful technologies.

Examples abound. Electromagnetism was discovered by theorist James Clerk Maxwell, building largely on the experimental work of Michael Faraday. Maxwell’s single, deeper theory made electric motors, generators, and a safe electric power grid possible. Wireless messaging arose when Guglielmo Marconi applied Maxwell’s electromagnetism, ultimately leading to Wi-Fi, cell, and satellite communications.

Gaining a deeper understanding of gravity, Albert Einstein provided the know-how needed for GPS. And by pondering space and time, he unexpectedly discovered that matter is a concentrated form of energy, which led to understanding how fusion fuels stars like our Sun. Today, we explore ways that fusion might solve the world’s energy problems and reduce human impact on the environment.

To unravel the mysteries of the atom, theoretical physicists developed quantum theory, which underpins technologies like the transistor (at the heart of virtually every electronic device), the laser (used in fibre-optic networks spanning the globe), MRI, and many more technologies.

The innovators at Perimeter go on to apply their own analytical and technical skills – throughout academia, industry, and all parts of society – to propel human knowledge for the understanding and benefit of all.