Canadian Light Source

by Kathryn Warden

New CLS Logo: This logo captures the dynamic nature of synchrotron light. A blast of light is emitted from the swooping ellipse, which represents both the synchrotron's electron storage ring and the letter 'C' for Canada. The light beams form the points of a stylized maple leaf, a widely recognized symbol of Canada on the international stage. The blend of cyan and magenta inks suggests a spectrum of colors or wavelengths of light.

A piece of Saskatchewan prairie the size of a football field is about to be turned into a 'field of beams' -- the site of a huge, light-generating machine that will be Canada's biggest scientific project in a generation when it starts up in 2003.

The project was officially launched last month on the University of Saskatchewan campus with a ceremony to celebrate the unprecedented federal-provincial-civic-academic partnership that created the $173.5-million Canadian Light Source (CLS). A sign bearing a new, dynamic CLS logo was unveiled at the site where construction has been underway since July.

Natural Resources Canada Minister Ralph Goodale and Premier Roy Romanow were among the speakers to highlight the CLS's potential for unprecedented scientific and technological research in fields as diverse as medicine, materials science, electronics, environmental science, micro-machining (creation of motors so small they could fit through the eye of a needle).

More than 2,000 researchers a year are expected to come to the U of S to use this 'third-generation' synchrotron facility once it's fully operational. There are only half a dozen similarly advanced synchrotrons in the world.

Scientists and industrial researchers will be able to analyze molecules, materials and biological samples with higher accuracy and precision than has been possible before in Canada. This brilliant light source will mean that matter can be 'seen' at the atomic scale -- from the cross-sectional images of a mosquito's knee to the nanosecond-by-nanosecond activity of protein molecules such as antibodies.

The CLS is the largest project funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation to date. The U of S was selected as the site in a national competition in part because of the expertise of scientists at the existing U of S linear accelerator. That accelerator will be used to inject electrons (charged particles) into the synchrotron. Highly intense, narrowly focussed beams of light will be created when the electrons are accelerated to nearly the speed of light and kept moving in a circular path by powerful magnets.

Millions of times brighter than conventional medical X-rays, synchrotron light can be used to develop new drugs, design new microchips for more powerful computers, manufacture tiny biomedical implants, and create new materials. U of S physicist Jack Bergstrom likens the synchrotron to 'a 21st century version of the microscope' in terms of its scientific impact.

In an unprecedented show of support for a new Canadian research facility, 18 major universities have endorsed the CLS as a much-needed world-class facility for Canada's technological future. The facility will be owned and operated by the U of S for the various stakeholders. The operating budget will be $13.9 million (in 1998 dollars) by 2008 when all 15 'beamlines' are likely to be built. Beamlines up to 30 metres long carry the light to work stations where experiments are conducted.

Operating funding will come from various sources including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the National Research Council (NRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the U of S, and user fees from non-academic users. Michael Bancroft, a chemist from the University of Western Ontario and a long-time advocate of building a synchrotron in Canada, took over as CLS interim director Sept. 1.

University of British Columbia biochemist Natalie Strynadka is excited about using the CLS for her work on protein crystals which she hopes will lead to new antibiotics to fight bacterial enzymes. "The synchrotron really makes our research," she says. "It lets you change or tune the wavelength of the X-ray. You can see the position of the atoms much more precisely than with typical lab X-ray facilities. It's a much more efficient way to solve the three-dimensional structure of protein crystals."

She makes half a dozen trips a year to use foreign synchrotrons and has had to wait up to a year to use facilities in Germany and the U.S. "It will be great to have a third-generation synchrotron close by," she said. "By having our own light source, we'll be much more competitive."

For more information on the Canadian Light Source, visit their web site at