University of Saskatchewan

April 19, 2014   

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME...

May 07, 1999

By Kathryn Warden

More than 20 graduate students from across Canada have contacted the Saskatchewan Accelerator Laboratory over the past year to inquire about working on the Canadian Light Source synchrotron to be built by 2003.

There's also been interest from a University of Toronto scientist who'd like to set up a photonics lab here because the CLS would enhance his work into a new type of circuitry based on light.

"The CLS's promise as a recruiting tool is enormous," says Eric Norum, a SAL research electrical engineer and adjunct professor of engineering physics.

"All four of my graduate students would like to stay to work on the synchrotron and several of my former students are expressing interest in coming back for graduate work or a research career."

U of S physicist and CLS design co-ordinator Jack Bergstrom also sees the CLS as a "natural drawing card for new talent."

"Experts in their fields will say 'Maybe the salaries are not great at the U of S but the opportunities are really there with the synchrotron,'" he says. "This applies not just to physicists but particularly to chemists, engineers and people in the biosciences and environmental sciences."

Bergstrom stresses the synchroton is not a single-use machine. "We'll have 40 to 50 users working on different experiments all at the same time. We expect ultimately to have 2,000 people a year using the CLS," he says.

He thinks of the synchrotron, a light-generating machine the size of a football field, as the "21st century version of the microscope." This brilliant light source allows for matter to be "seen" at the atomic scale -- from the cross-sectional images of a mosquito's knee to the nanosecond-by-nanosecond behavior of protein molecules such as antibodies.

"Scientists need finer beams of X-rays today because the samples of matter they study are getting smaller and smaller," he said.

Incredibly intense, narrowly focussed beams of light are created when charged particles (electrons) are accelerated to nearly the speed of light and kept moving in a circular path by powerful magnets. Beamlines up to 30 metres long carry the light to work stations where experiments can be conducted.

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. Without it, we wouldn't be at the same point at all," she says. "It lets you change or tune the wavelength of the X-ray. It's a much more efficient way to solve the three-dimensional structure of protein crystals. You can see the position of the atoms much more precisely than with typical lab X-ray facilities."

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."

University of Alberta chemist Ron Cavell points out Canadian researchers will be able to design their own experiments with the specific temperature and other conditions they need, rather than depend on facilities designed and constructed by others.

"It means that instead of just borrowing Dad's car, you can have your own car and soup it up," he said.

Access to the CLS will save researchers like him thousands of dollars a year in travel costs. At present, he has to book six to eight months ahead to use a synchrotron at Madison, Wisc. or up to one year to use the synchrotron at Stanford where the chances of getting beamline access are only 50/50.

Cavell uses synchrotron light to study the surfaces of materials, research which could lead to more efficient catalysts for the petrochemical industry. He notes catalytic converters in automobiles are a direct result of early synchrotron research done 25 years ago.

He currently spends a day or two every week at SAL working on the CLS beamline design.

"I'm really overjoyed that we've been able to build on the strengths that exist here and provide for our students what will be a world-class facility," he says.

"The work that we'll do here will be equal to what is being done in Germany, France, Japan, the U.S. and all countries where they have cutting-edge research involving synchrotron radiation."

SAL staff are confident companies will buy beamlines and eventually locate here.

"Once you get one company here, others will follow," says Norum. "The CLS will sell itself. The research that can be done with it is so diverse and it's so much faster than traditional light sources. For instance, if you're a petrochemical company, you don't have to wait six months to see how well the oil in your engine will work. You can do it here in a few days."

Daryl Crozier, a physicist at Simon Fraser University, just spent 11 days using a U.S. synchrotron and figures the American government subsidized his work to the tune of about $220,000 U.S. "If you multiply that by the 200 Canadian synchrotron users, when are they (foreign facilities) going to say 'You better start paying'?'' he said.

"Everyone is just beginning to realize the great benefits of synchrotron radiation in all areas of science," he said. "If Canadian industry wants to be competitive in developing new materials, they have to fund beamlines."

Kathryn Warden is Research Communications Officer in the Office of the Vice-President Research.
For more information about the CLS, visit the Research web site

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