(This piece is about Earth Day last year – and to also note that this year’s Earth Day is coming up on April 22nd)

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It promised to be a great weekend. Earth Day was just around the corner. And ready for that occasion, the TRIUMF research facility on south campus was set to deliver a special version of its monthly Saturday Morning Talks, an outreach initiative spearheaded by the UBC Graduate Student Society and aimed at high school and layman audiences.

The topic was to be hydrogen fuel cells. Although the occasional mention of fuel cells might already have been familiar to many in the audience; it’s unlikely that many were aware that UBC has one of Canada’s premier research facilities in the area of developing hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Specifically, the National Research Council Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation is developing our future energy conversion devices, and on this Saturday, one of their award-winning scientists (a PhD candidate from the Department of Materials Engineering, Lars Rose) was giving an interactive presentation on fuel cell technologies, including hands-on models of fuel cells, and several videos.

This particular presentation is now well established and has been seen on many occasions from the Planetarium Sustainability Week, the GVRD regional science fair, BC Science and Physics Teachers Associations meetings, BC Sustainable Energy Association conventions, as well as to many classroom visits throughout British Columbia. It has even had an opportunity to be showcased at the Discovery Channel and the CBC, and is, as modern times demand, featured on YouTube.

Says Rose, “Fuel cells are already available for the mobile market, in small applications like flashlights, but research and development is constantly reducing cost while increasing reliability and durability. With the fossil fuel prices irreversibly on the rise, there aren’t all that many alternatives that we can cover our future energy demands with. Also, fuel cells can operate with a large variety of fuels, diversifying our energy supply structure. Batteries are another alternative, but they are heavy.”

The presentation worked like a charm: because audiences always find it very interesting to see what is actually being done at the cutting edge. As well, the presentation made the effort to demonstrate how such a technology fits into the global challenge of climate change – audiences were treated to a possible glimpse into a future with both cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The presentation also included opinions of non-scientists who oppose the notion of climate change, giving a rounded picture of all the issues surrounding alternative energy research. It was a fitting start to a great Earth Day Weekend.

So what is so attractive about these public Saturday Morning talks? Explains Stanley Yen, coordinator of the TRIUMF lecture series, “The series is intended to present topics at the cutting edge of research, at a level comprehensible to any high school student and members of the general public. And most importantly,” he adds, “topics over the past years have covered a gamut of subjects, ranging from practical applications like fuel cells, medical imaging and photonics, to esoteric ideas about subatomic particles, neutron stars and the Big Bang.”

The series runs monthly throughout the school year.