University of Saskatchewan

August 29, 2014   

General R&D

Canada's First Synchrotron
Canada's first and only synchrotron research facility was officially opened October 22 at the University of Saskatchewan. This $174-million facility is Canada's biggest scientific project in a generation, and puts the U of S on the map as home to one of the most advanced synchrotrons in the world today.

Synthetic Sugar
In the early 1950s, Raymond Lemieux was the first in the world to produce sucrose - table sugar - by synthetic means. The feat was to chemists of the era akin to climbing Mt. Everest. Lemieux, a U of S faculty member before he moved to the National Research Council, completed the groundbreaking work at the NRC’s Prairie Regional Laboratory, a facility on the U of S campus now known as the Plant Biotechnology Institute.

Sucrose is a disaccharide - a sugar that is made up of two simpler sugars, fructose and glucose. While many living things routinely make sucrose - it is one of the most plentiful products of biosythesis - chemists could not figure out how the sugars were put together in the right orientation. That is, it had to have the right three-dimensional shape out of literally thousands of possibilities.

Lemieux's breakthrough with sucrose synthesis was a foundation event in stereochemistry, that is, the study of the shape, as well as the constituent atoms, of molecules. Sugars are found virtually everywhere in living systems, and their shape determines what they do. Sugars on the surface of cells, for example, determine blood type, and act as receptors for cell signaling. These receptors are often "hijacked" by viruses and bacteria to invade our bodies and cause disease. Likewise, some antibiotics are based on complex sugars of just the right shape to block the receptors on the surfaces of bacteria and viruses.

Practical applications are numerous, from ELISA tests for blood typing, antibody tests, vaccine development, and design of new medicines. While he moved to the University of Alberta in the 1960s, Lemieux continued to collaborate with U of S colleagues Louis Delbaere and Wilson Quail into the 1980s and 1990s, helping to explain, among other things, how proteins bind to sugar receptors on blood cells, an important step in understanding immune response.

Development of Weigh-in-Motion Scale
In the late 1970s, transportation engineers under the direction of U of S Professor Art Bergan developed a prototype of automatic, weigh-in-motion scales. The technology is designed to weigh vehicles passing over computer-assisted scales at speeds up to 70 miles per hour, and with axle weights up to 50,000 pounds each. Similar scales using advanced technologies are now widely used throughout North America by International Road Dynamics, a company headed by Art Bergan's son, Terry.

Half-Billion-Year-Old Egg Fossil Discovered in Lab
In 1994, doctoral student Xi-guang Zhang, working with some limestone samples he had brought to the Department of Geological Sciences from China, discovered a fossil of a fertilized trilobite egg estimated to be about 520 million years old - the oldest such find ever. Zhang and his supervisor, Dr. Brian Pratt, reported their amazing discovery in the October 28, 1994, issue of Science magazine.

Innovation Place
Innovation Place was the first research park in Saskatchewan and stands today as one of the most successful in North America. The park houses approximately 120 organizations and more than 2,000 employees. Many organizations here have strong links to the nearby University of Saskatchewan, which leases land for the park to the province. In 2001, Innovation Place tenants generated almost $146 million in Saskatoon's economy and almost $250 million in the provincial economy through the purchase of goods and services and payroll. Companies are involved in areas as diverse as agricultural biotechnology, telecommunications, animal vaccines, pharmaceuticals and environmental sciences.