In the latest Economist Technology Quarterly, Sep 21st 2006.
Such is the iconic status of the BlackBerry that Mr Lazaridis was asked to appear in a recent advertisement by American Express. Mr Lazaridis is shown sketching a BlackBerry in a room lined with equation-laden blackboards. The academic setting is no exaggeration. Mr Lazaridis is fascinated by fundamental physics, a passion in which he invests as a philanthropist. In 2000 he founded the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, just outside Waterloo University, donating C$100m ($66m) to establish an institute where boffins struggle to reconcile the force of gravity with quantum mechanics, by postulating that the universe has hidden dimensions or that space and time have a granular structure.
At first sight, this seems like a highly esoteric form of philanthropy, far removed from the world-saving urgency of, say, the real Bill Gates, who is backing new drugs to cure diseases such as malaria. But for Mr Lazaridis, this is enlightened, if rather long-term, self-interest. He sees a direct link between basic science and Canada's technological future. “This is a cornerstone of a country's competitiveness. You can never invest too much in basic research,” he says.
... Funding agencies in many industrialised countries are increasingly shifting support towards applied science, and are insisting that even basic research must be directly relevant to the taxpayers who support it. ...
For [Mr Lazaridis], the correlation between basic science and industrial achievement makes sense only if you look over long time scales. And, he explains, “you've got to have all the parts in place, including efficient mechanisms to train young people who will transfer new scientific knowledge to industry, as well as companies that are ready and receptive to employ and empower that talent.” In other words, basic science is a necessary but not sufficient condition for remaining industrially competitive.