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Dalhousie University president Richard Florizone arrives at a meeting of the Dalhousie Senate in Halifax on Feb. 22, 2016.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Dalhousie University president Richard Florizone is leaving the Halifax university to head up Quantum Valley Ideas Lab, a Waterloo, Ont., centre aimed at connecting research discoveries in quantum technology with products and businesses.

The opportunity to be part of what he sees as the cusp of a revolution in the application of quantum technology was the chance of a lifetime, Mr. Florizone said.

“The more that we are able to measure, manipulate and fabricate materials on a quantum scale, the more we can exploit quantum properties,” Mr. Florizone said. “Whether it’s antenna or medical imaging devices, we can increase the sensitivity of devices like that by several orders of magnitude,” he said. “The question for Canada is where are we going to go in this quantum revolution?”

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Dr. Florizone has a PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been serving on the Ideas Lab’s board of directors for the past year. He began his term at Dalhousie in 2013. He had been approved to start a second term in July, 2019, but will now end his term early next year.

The Ideas Lab is part of an investment in quantum technology by Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, co-founders of Research in Motion (which is now BlackBerry Ltd.). Their investment includes Quantum Valley Investments, a venture-capital firm that aims to capitalize on emerging research. Tatjana Curcic, a U.S. Air Force physicist, was the inaugural head of the Ideas Lab, but declined to renew her term.

“We believe that Richard’s extensive and diverse set of skills and experience make him uniquely qualified to drive Ideas Lab’s success. We are thrilled that he has agreed to help us,” Mr. Lazaridis said in a statement.

Dr. Florizone’s term as president of Dalhousie was marked by high-profile national and local challenges. In the wake of controversies in its dentistry faculty, when a group of male students were found posting misogynistic comments online about female classmates, and its actions against a student leader whose online post was criticized for being discriminatory against white people, it faced questions about the climate for women and minority groups. Locally, rowdy homecoming parties angered neighbours.

In response, Dalhousie implemented a series of initiatives, including hiring diverse administrators and faculty, and focusing on the theme of belonging for its 200th-anniversary celebrations this year.

“Every leader is faced with opportunities and challenges,” Mr. Florizone said. “And there are always a lot of voices.” To get through the crises, he relied on thinking about the university’s mission of teaching and research, academic freedom and respectful dialogue, he said.

The university has had many research successes, he pointed out. It is part of a consortium that won $500-million for a federally funded Ocean Supercluster, has received federal grants for the Ocean Frontier Institute, a collaboration with Memorial and the University of Prince Edward Island, and top national science prizes for its researchers.

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One of the priorities at the Quantum Valley Ideas Lab will be to develop intellectual-property rights that protect inventors while benefiting society, he said.

“Now you have a tension between collaboration and openness. … I don’t think there is a single solution to that, there are a variety of arrangements that come into play. … It would be a shame if there was a clampdown.”