Ron Steer

Using Photovoltaics to Reduce Carbon Footprints

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Dr. Ron Steer has a long history with the University of Saskatchewan. Both his parents are U of S alumni and he received his BA and PhD from the U of S. Dr. Steer joined the Chemistry faculty in 1969 after postdoctoral work in California and has been teaching and conducting research here ever since.

His general research interests include the chemical and physical effects of absorbing light by materials. Applications of this interest began with his studies of the effects of sunlight in generating smog – particularly in sunny, sprawling urban centres such as Mexico City and Los Angeles. Fundamentally, he questions what happens to molecules in the short time intervals after they absorb light.

Examining the fastest processes after light absorption, Dr. Steer and his team have used lasers since the late 1970s as light sources for their experiments. Over time, laser technology has improved and Dr. Steer is now able to explore the fastest processes, which occur at time intervals shorter than one millionth of a millionth of a second, or a picosecond.

In the mid 2000s, Dr. Steer's work revealed applications important to environmental protection. Solar photovoltaic cells, like those currently found on most solar panels, are made of inorganic material and are too expensive for an average household to use in Canada. However, organic photovoltaic cells (OPV) are both cheaper and easier to produce than their inorganic counterparts and hold exceptional promise for future development.

His research, 30 years in the making, is aimed at improving the efficiency of OPVs and lengthening their useful working lifetime under environmental conditions by using more stable materials. "Applications have to rest on a fundamental scientific basis," says Steer. "My work involves research with the potential for developing new devices and technology that will help overcome our current dependence on fossil fuels.