Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette visits the University of Saskatchewan. (Photo: Lisa Landrie)

To the stars: U of S hosts Governor General

During her three-day visit to Saskatchewan, the Governor General joined the legion of stargazers over the years who have come out on a Saturday to peer through the telescope at the University of Saskatchewan’s Observatory.

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, arrived for an unofficial visit late Saturday afternoon, en route from Regina to Humboldt. The visit was arranged by request from her office. An engineer and former astronaut, the Governor General is noted for her work in developing policies to promote science and technology.

She appeared just as excited by her stopover as was the delegation of students, volunteers and campus senior leaders there to greet her.

Eyes sparkling, she made her way down the nine-person reception line, joking “You have nothing else to do on a Saturday?”

Built between 1928 and 1930, the Observatory houses a three-meter long refracting telescope with six-inch diameter lens. The facility is open Saturday evenings year-round, free of charge, so that any visitor may view planets, comets and other celestial bodies.

Chelsea-Lea Randall, an undergraduate student in physics with a specialization in astronomy who is also president of the Physics Students’ Society, assisted Her Excellency to view the sun through the telescope. It was an exciting opportunity for someone who aspires to a career in research and also become an astronaut.

“(She’s) the first astronaut I’ve ever gotten to meet,” Randall said.

Among the 15 students and volunteers, the Governor-General also met Simone Hagey, an undergraduate in physics and mechanical engineering who hopes to work in the space industry, and Doug Campbell, who is finishing his MSc in biomedical engineering and is training to be an astronaut through The PHEnOM Project in the U.S.

She encouraged him to apply for the next step on the path to becoming an astronaut.

Speaking to the delegation assembled in the Observatory museum, Payette told them their work in physics and astronomy is “absolutely necessary” and urged them to continue sharing knowledge.

“I don’t think there’s anything evolving faster than astronomy and astrophysics,” Payette said. “We literally rewrite the books every decade.”

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette visits the University of Saskatchewan. (Photo: Lisa Landrie)

Before ascending the stairs to the dome, the Governor General left her own special stamp on the guest book, a large square sticker with her Wing of Knowledge crest, which she was also wearing.

As well, she presented the Observatory with a photograph of Saskatchewan taken from the International Space Station, cast with the greenish aura of the northern lights. In turn, U of S President Peter Stoicheff presented her with a photo of the Observatory, set against the deep blue of a dusky sky.

For the university’s part, one of the purposes of the visit was to invite Her Excellency back for an official visit.

“Because of her background, we’d love to give her a more in-depth tour of our physics-related scientific accomplishments,” Stoicheff explained.

Those include the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, and the display paying tribute to Gerhard Herzberg, former U of S faculty member and Nobel laureate in chemistry for his work in atomic and molecular spectroscopy.

As it turns out, long before her appointment as Governor General, Payette was on the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada in the 1990s when it backed the proposal to build the synchrotron.

Stoicheff barely had a chance to extend the invitation for an official visit before she declared, moments after her arrival, “It’s a short visit. I’ll be back,” a promise she repeated during her address.

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