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Canadian Space Agency head leaving to focus on quantum physics

Canada Space Agency President Steve MacLean responds to reporters in Quebec City in February 2012. MacLean has announced that he is leaving his position to join a venture with Mike Lazaridis, the former CEO and co-founder of Research In Motion.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Steve MacLean, former astronaut and president of the Canadian Space Agency, is coming down to Earth to take up residence in Canada's blossoming "quantum valley" research hub in Waterloo, Ont. Dr. MacLean will leave his post on Feb. 1, the agency announced in a statement on Tuesday.

Dr. MacLean, who holds a doctorate in physics from York University, will join a new venture launched by Mike Lazaridis, the former CEO and co-founder of Research in Motion. Mr. Lazaridis has been an enthusiastic supporter of basic science and was the principal benefactor behind the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, part of a growing cluster of research and innovation efforts in the region. Although independent of Perimeter, the new initiative will focus on scientific research and development in quantum physics, the institute confirmed.

Dr. MacLean was one of the space agency's "original six" Canadian astronauts. After his selection in 1983, he twice rocketed into space, first in 1992 aboard the space shuttle Columbia and then in 2006 on Atlantis. He became president of the Canadian Space Agency in September, 2008, the second astronaut to serve in the role after Marc Garneau.

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As a scientist, Dr. MacLean specialized in laser physics, a field that "kept many doors open because the laser is part of a solution in many areas of business," he once said in a NASA pre-flight interview. He was pursuing a post-doctoral fellowship in laser physics at Stanford University when the call came to become an astronaut.

Dr. MacLean is now set to return to his physics roots in Waterloo. In addition to the Perimeter Institute, the region boasts the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology. Dr. MacLean will leave the space agency with one of its star performers, astronaut Chris Hadfield, near the start of a five-month mission on board the International Space Station.

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