After months of courting, the Waterloo-Ont.-based Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics has managed to lure famed physicist Stephen Hawking to Canada next summer, for the first of what it hopes is many visits.
University of Cambridge professor and cosmologist Hawking, best known for his book A Brief History of Time, theories on the origin of the universe and work on black holes, has been appointed to the position of distinguished research chair at Perimeter and will make his first visit in the summer of 2009, the institute announced Thursday.
The position will involve regular visits to the institute, said Perimeter director Neil Turok, and is the first of 40 expected appointments of distinguished research chairs.
"Stephen is coming here to do science and interact with the community of researchers at PI and hopefully to come up with new ideas that will push the subject forward," Turok told CBC News.
"It's wonderful to have Stephen because he is well-known as a pioneer, a visionary within the field, and his enormous reputation and wisdom will help to help [the institute] to not only establish itself but to define the right paths of research for the future," he said.
Turok said the appointment marks a new phase in the institute's recruitment process, saying he hopes within the next five to 10 years to make Perimeter a "second research home" for 40 scientists from around the world.
The appointment, however, won't affect Hawking's position at Cambridge, where he heads the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.
Earlier this summer newspapers in the U.K. suggested Hawking might leave Cambridge entirely to join Turok, who left the university to take on the lead role at Perimeter. But Cambridge and the Perimeter institute doused the rumour.
'Close to my heart'
Hawking said in a statement the appointment was an honour.
"The institute's twin focus, on quantum theory and gravity, is very close to my heart and central to explaining the origin of the universe," said Hawking.
"I look forward to building a growing partnership between [Perimeter institute] and our Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, at Cambridge. Our research endeavour is global, and by combining forces I believe we will reap rich rewards."
Turok said Hawking should give one public lecture and at least one technical lecture during his stay, but mostly he will be coming to work.
Hawking is coming to do what theoretical physicists do "which is to try to come up with new concepts about space and time and quantum theory and the laws of physics, and try to reconcile all the laws of physics within a unified mathematical framework and try to figure out how to test those ideas experimentally and observationally," Turok said.
"Theoretical physicists are incredibly interactive people and the science is increasingly collaborative, so nobody has a monopoly of good ideas," he said. "Stephen is coming to share his ideas and we'll be sharing our ideas, so hopefully new ideas will emerge from the discussions."
The Perimeter institute, founded in 2000 with a donation of $100 million from Research in Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis, has become internationally renowned in the world of theoretical physics as a meeting place for the top minds in the field.
Earlier this year, it got two more boosts with the appointment of the South-African born Turok, and an additional donation of $50 million from Lazaridis.