I learned this morning from Matin Durrani’s blog that the Perimeter Institute has announced today the first of what they expect to be five very well-funded Perimeter Research Chairs in theoretical physics. The next four will be named after Maxwell, Bohr, Einstein and Dirac (as well as whatever other wealthy individual or organization comes up with funding).
The BMO Financial Group is putting up $4 million and $4 million is coming out of the Perimeter endowment (which is mostly from Blackberry’s Mike Lazaridis). An endowment of $8 million for a chair is quite high. It seems that typical numbers for endowment payouts these days are around 5%, so this would make available $400,000 or so a year to pay some prominent theorist. For comparison, the Simons Foundation has recently announced that it will fund endowed Math+X chairs aimed at mathematicians working at the interface with some other subject. Simons may be the wealthiest hedge-fund manager in the world, but he’s a piker compared to the Canadian financiers, with only $1.5 million going to each chair (to be matched by $1.5 million from the institution that gets the chair, for a total of $3 million). Then again, it just may be that prominent mathematicians are dirt-cheap compared to prominent theoretical physicists.
The Perimeter Institute in recent years has moved away from supporting non-mainstream topics in theoretical physics, while expanding dramatically. The only two conferences announced there for the next year or so are on the topics of LHC physics and AdS/CFT, about as mainstream as one can possibly imagine. If they manage to fund what might be the five highest-paid theoretical physics positions in the world and hire the people they want into them, they will be well on their way to a dominant position in the subject. While, like most industries these days, the tactic here is to shower the top few people in the field with cash, they are also expanding their hiring at more junior levels. According to the rumor mill, last year out of a total of fourteen people hired to tenure-track positions in theoretical particle physics in North America, three of the fourteen went to Perimeter.