Jan 5, 2001

Software developer presents UVic with astronomical gift

by Mike McNeney

John Criswick, a Victoria-raised software developer with an avid interest in astronomy and space exploration, has given stock options and cash totalling $272,000 to the UVic astronomy and astrophysics group.

The gift, the largest ever private donation to the group, was announced at a pre-Christmas news conference in the foyer of the Elliott Building.

Most of the funds will support research led by Dr. Arif Babul, a specialist in theoretical cosmology who tests theories about the origins of structure in the universe and the evolution of galaxies such as our Milky Way.

“The UVic program is drawing a lot of attention internationally and leading researchers are coming back to Canada to get involved,” said Criswick, a resident of Ottawa. “I am very happy to be able to support Arif and his colleagues’ dedication and to help maintain the momentum they have created.”

Criswick has had an interest in astronomy since childhood, took undergraduate astronomy at UVic and at one time was under serious consideration by the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut program.

As a show of thanks, an asteroid recently discovered by UVic astronomy research associate Dave Balam will be named in Criswick’s honour.

While $192,000 of Criswick’s stock options will support astrophysics research, an earlier cash gift of $80,000 is providing bursaries and travel subsidies for astronomy students attending international conferences and symposia.

“On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to John for this generous gift,” said Babul. “Over the past three years we have been working hard to consolidate our leadership position by establishing cutting-edge research programs and world- class facilities. This gift gives a tremendous boost to our efforts. With possible matching funds from government granting agencies, John’s gift can be leveraged to secure nearly $1 million for our planned national Institute for Cosmological Science.”

Criswick, 37, helped design one of the first Java software-based Web browsers for cell phones and other portable devices. The technology, and the Ottawa company Criswick formed with UVic grad Bob Tennant, were sold to Sun Microsystems in 1998 for approximately $20 million.

Criswick earned degrees in electrical engineering from UBC and space physics at York University, but his interest in astronomy began with university studies at UVic. After graduating from York, he worked at an observatory in Utah. He qualified among the top 200 of 5,200 candidates for the Canadian astronaut program.

In the mid-90s Criswick switched gears and joined Nortel in Ottawa where Tennant was also employed. Later, they formed Beduin Communications Corp. to develop and market the “Impact” Web browser they sold to Sun.

Babul is associate professor and director of the new UVic-based Canadian Computational Cosmology Collaboration. The collaboration uses massive computer-generated simulations to trace the evolution of the universe over the course of 15 billion years. UVic houses Canada’s best and most powerful facilities for computational cosmology, with a system of 40 parallel desktop computers and a new supercomputer ranked among the world’s fastest.

Understanding how galaxies evolved is considered the next major challenge for scientists who study the creation and development of the universe.

The UVic astronomy and astrophysics group includes 17 members (faculty and adjunct professors) who are recognized world leaders in their respective areas of specialization. “Yes astronomers, there is a Santa Claus,” Babul told members of the astronomy group attending the Dec. 22 news conference.

Send EMail to The Ring

Return to Ring contents