Stuart Irvine is Professor of Solar Energy Materials at Swansea University’s Centre for Solar Energy Research (CSER). He and his wife, Fiona, recently embarked on a Himalayan trek to raise money for a school in Nepal and to collect data for Professor Irvine’s solar cell research project.
What inspired your Himalayan adventure?
Raising money for the Brick Children School inspired the trek. The Brick Children School provides education for children of migrant families who spend six months of the year, during the dry season, making bricks in the Kathmandu Valley. Before the charity was formed, the children had no education at all during this period and when they returned to their home villages for school they would have fallen behind in their education and often dropped out.
How did you become involved?
We became involved through Carole Green, a correspondent for ITV News, and a friend and neighbour. Carole is a trustee for the Brick School in the Kathmandu Valley and had approached a local mountain leader, Jason Rawles, who is experienced in leading high-altitude expeditions about a Brick School to Base Camp trek to raise much needed funds for the school.
Are you an experienced climber?
I have been hillwalking and rock climbing for many years and had a passion for Everest and the Himalayas, but I never thought I would go there. I do quite a lot of long-distance walking and I have done some higher-altitude climbs abroad but never above 3,200 metres, so this was into the unknown for me!
What got you through when things got tough?
We all had highs and lows but when any of us were feeling the effects of altitude and cold someone would step in and raise our spirits. Some of the steep uphill trails could be unrelenting but rather than thinking about how hard it was I would lose myself in the most amazing scenery and ask our Sherpa guides the names of the mountains around us. It was stunning!
Did you achieve what you set out to?
I am pleased to say Fiona and I have raised over £1,000 on our JustGiving page thanks to many generous donations. Across the team we have raised in the region of £8,000 towards the work of the school.
Thanks to the ingenuity of colleagues at CSER and at the University of Surrey who adapted my equipment before I went on the trek, I successfully got all the information I needed for my research. All the data went onto an SD card that could be read on a laptop when I returned to the lab. I had no idea that the experiment had worked until I got back. In the whole time I only missed one cell measurement so I was very relieved to see the data scrolling onto the laptop screen. We are now in the process of analysing the data and one of our finds could have big implications for solar cells being operated efficiently at high altitude, for example, in providing solar energy for remote high-altitude communities.