Chemistry professor presents on solar panel to royal couple

(Calgary) On July 8 University of Alberta chemistry professor and NINT scholar, Jillian Buriak, was given the chance to show off her research into low cost solar panels to the royal couple during their final hours in Canada. The Faculty of Science caught up with her less than an hour after her presentation.

When did you find out you would be presenting to the Royal Couple?
I got a call in May from the Office of the Vice-President (External) at the U of A asking if I was available on July 8 and not much more. I then got an email two weeks later from the chief of staff of the Minister of the Environment, Robert Renner, who incidentally was a student I taught in Chem 333 and is a U of A graduate. The chief of staff, Jeff Kasbrick, explained to me then that I would be presenting to the Duke and Duchess during their visit to Calgary about the research we do in the "Buriak and Brett Groups".

How did you feel about being selected?
I was really excited to be asked as it was so soon after the royal wedding and everyone was talking about Kate and William. I was actually a bit nervous to be honest. There were going to be four of us presenting for three minutes each.

Where was the event?
The event was held at the ENMAX Centre in the Calgary Zoo. It’s an incredible venue.

What kind of coaching did you get in royal protocol?
There was not a lot of coaching but it was great to have Jeff Kasbrick to have to go over the questions with about the event and what was expected. He was really helpful in the lead up to the event.

What project did you them introduce to?
I presented a poster on the research we do into the production of more affordable solar cells, and let them hold demonstration plastic solar cells that our team made for the event; we made plastic cells in the shapes of leaves, and a Canadian flag to demonstrate their versatility. The panels we are developing are as thin as paper and will be able to be rolled out of production like newspaper and have enormous application for the developing world.

Why do you think your research was selected to be presented?
I think in a province like Alberta where there is so much focus on the oilsands, the Government of Alberta was eager to show off some of the research work they support in alternative energy like the solar panels our team works on. It was definitely another way to get the solar message out.

What kinds of questions were asked by the royal couple about your work?
Prince William asked me when the technology was likely to be available and Catherine commented on the applicability of this technology for the developing world but also asked me if it can be used on a boat—nudging her husband as she did.

What was their reaction to your work?
It was incredible as it was just me and them for three minutes and I was amazed at how focused the royal couple were when I presented to them. It was remarkable. As it was a sunny day in Calgary I mentioned to them how the solar panels would work well in a place like the backcountry Skoki Lodge where my family goes every year, a fact they could relate to that since they had just stayed there the night before.

Who else presented from the U of A?
The Kenya Ceramic Project, which is a health pilot project aimed at introducing innovative ceramic water filters and high-efficiency wood burning stoves to rural areas of Kenya. The project started in 2007 and is led by students and alumni from the University of Alberta and International Health Initiatives by Medical Students (IHIMS).

What did you wear?
I was going to wear a nice skirt suit but I was in a bike accident a few weeks ago and my legs were pretty scraped up, so I opted for a black pant suit and green shirt in the spirit of my presentation. It really was a great honour and it was not until afterwards when I replayed the whole presentation that I wished I had not been quite so nervous. It was a really wonderful experience and they are really a remarkable couple.