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Feb 25, 2012

Peter Meincke awarded Diamond Jubilee medal

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Physicist and sustainable technology expert Peter Meincke was one of 60 Canadians to receive the first round of Diamond Jubilee commemorative medals on Feb. 6 in honour of Elizabeth II’s sixtieth year as queen.

Peter Meincke awarded Diamond Jubilee medal

Governor General David Johnston awards Manotick resident Peter Meincke with one of the first 60 Diamond Jubilee commemorative medals on Feb. 6. Ronald Duchesne

Meincke, 76, was nominated for the award by the Royal Commonwealth Society’s national chairman, Colin Reichle, who said he chose Meincke because of his commitment to the commonwealth society and his “long and distinguished career in education.”

Meincke began his academic career at the Royal Military College in Kingston before completing a degree in engineering physics from Queen’s University. He went on to receive his Ph.D in physics from the University of Toronto. He was appointed Dean of Science at the university in 1969, but quickly became interested in sciences far removed from his physics background.

“I got very interested in the role of technologies in society in general, starting with communications technology but in the 1970s it broadened very quickly to energy technologies,” he said.

In 1976 Meincke travelled the world for a year to see how other countries were coping with the energy crisis. He realized that very few research projects were dealing with small-scale energy technologies such as solar and wind projects. He then noticed that Prince Edward Island was at the forefront of developing small-scale research technologies, most notable because the province had built the ARK, a self-sustaining “living machine” that incorporated solar power, composting systems and other sustainable technologies to make the building as self-sufficient as possible.

The province was also behind energy efficient housing, using biomass on farms, recycling, and limiting farm sizes. It also operated an Atlantic wind test site off the northern tip of the tiny island.

“These things are done all the time now, but back in the 1970s, this was innovative,” Meincke said.

Meincke accepted a position as head of the University of PEI so he could more closely study some of these projects, and became increasingly interested in how small island states can use technology to solve their unique problems.

“I realized if we were going to find a market for small-scale innovations, it seemed to me one of the natural markets would be small islands,” he said.

He began to develop an international small islands network that would foster information sharing between islands.

“Small islands are isolated. They can’t do these things n their own, so what I was essentially trying to do was build up a virtual infrastructure to provide the assistance needed to help these small islands prosper,” he said.

This was in the early 1990s, and he got his network on the brand new World Wide Web as soon as possible. Soon, the United Nations picked up on his work and asked him to spend several years setting up the Small Island Developing States Network (SIDSnet) which still exists today.

He said the main benefit of such networks is helping small islands more efficiently find solutions to their challenges. Sharing one island’s experience with innovative energy technology, desalination systems, available funding, and governmental policy changes can help other islands work toward similar goals.

“They’re sharing their experiences. They write it up, put it on the Internet and share it. It’s like going to a world wide conference on these things,” he said.

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