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When Raymond Laflamme first met Howard Burton, the founding executive director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, he was sure he was being set up by the FBI.

The year was 1999, and in the wake of an espionage scandal at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where Laflamme worked as a research scientist, Burton had been aggressively courting the Canadian physicist, whose accolades include helping shape Stephen Hawking's theories about time.

Burton called Laflamme repeatedly and insisted on showing up at the Los Alamos lab, a nuclear weapons research facility in New Mexico, to chat about opportunities at an institute he...

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