The Canadian Light Source:
A Global Leader in Synchrotron Science

The Canadian Light Source (CLS) is Canada’s national centre for synchrotron research. Located at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, the CLS is a world-class, state-of-the-art facility that is advancing Canadian science, enhancing the competitiveness of Canadian industry and contributing to the quality of life of people around the world.

Launched in 1999 and officially opened in 2004, the synchrotron is one of the largest science projects in Canadian history and was the product of an unprecedented collaboration of federal, provincial and municipal governments and agencies, universities from across the country and industry.

The Canadian Light Source is committed to being a world-leading centre of excellence in synchrotron science and its applications by working with the scientific community to promote the use of synchrotron light, promoting industrial partnerships and innovation, and engaging in scientific and educational outreach.

Currently, the CLS has more than 160 employees including scientists, engineers, technicians and administrative personnel. Located next to Innovation Place, one of Canada’s leading high-tech industrial parks, the CLS provides a much-needed national R&D capability and strengthens Saskatoon’s reputation as Canada’s “Science City.”

What’s a synchrotron?

A synchrotron is a source of brilliant light that enables scientists to study the microstructure and chemical properties of materials. Extremely bright synchrotron light is produced using microwave energy to accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light. Powerful magnets in the synchrotron’s storage ring bend the path of the electrons, causing them to emit light that spans the infrared to ultraviolet and X-ray regions of the spectrum. The light is shone down beamlines to laboratory endstations where researchers select specific wavelengths of light to observe matter down to the atomic level.

Why a synchrotron?

Synchrotron techniques have advantages over other forms of chemical analysis. Data collection is faster, and most types of synchrotron analysis are non-destructive and do not require that samples be extensively prepared. These advantages make synchrotron techniques ideal for environmental studies, biomedical research and archaeological studies.

Synchrotrons can be used to analyze a host of physical, chemical, geological and biological processes that have direct applications to environmental science, natural resources and energy research, life sciences and the development of new information and communications technology. Data obtained by researchers can be used to develop ways to help reduce greenhouse gases and clean up mining wastes, examine the structure of surfaces to develop more effective paints and motor oils, design new drugs, develop new materials for products ranging from solar panels to safer medical implants and build more powerful computer chips. New applications are being thought of all the time - synchrotron experiments are even helping with the search for other life in the universe.

Why in Saskatoon?

For over thirty years, the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) was recognized as a centre of excellence in particle physics as home of the Saskatchewan Accelerator Laboratory (SAL). SAL’s linear accelerator and resident expertise, combined with the support of the U of S and the people of Saskatoon, led to the city being selected by an international panel of experts as the home for Canada’s synchrotron.

A Unique Mission

The mission of the Canadian Light Source encourages excellence in both basic and applied science, with the mandate to grow the Canadian synchrotron research community and be responsive to its needs. This is accomplished through leadership by an independent board of directors that emphasizes the facility’s national character, with representation from government, universities and industry, as well as advisory committees made up of leading scientists from across Canada and around the world.

Access to the CLS for scientists doing basic research is through a peer-review process that encourages excellence and originality in the science done at Canada’s synchrotron. Research time is also reserved on each beamline for fee-for-service access by industry.


Synchrotrons have been described as the “Swiss Army knives of science” for their versatility. In addition to their proven uses, researchers are constantly looking at new ways to use synchrotrons. Examples in the following list of beamlines at the Canadian Light Source hardly scratch the surface of all their possible applications.

  1. High-Resolution Far Infrared Spectroscopy (Far IR)
    • A new window into the study of molecules, this line offers wavelengths of light that are very hard to obtain with conventional sources.
    • Infrared light causes specific vibrations in molecule bonds, so researchers can identify molecules by their precise vibration pattern.
    • Applications include simulations of molecules from space and organic chemistry.
    • Far-IR beamline page.
  2. Mid-IR Spectromicroscopy (Mid IR)
    • Imaging of living tissues to determine which molecules are present using signature vibrations caused by infrared light.
    • One use is the study of scar tissue formed in heart attack and burn victims, as well as plaques formed in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
    • Mid-IR beamline page.
  3. Variable Line Spacing Plane Grating Monochromator (VLS PGM)
    • PGM uses long-wavelengths of light (both soft X-ray and ultraviolet) to study surface science, that is, what happens where surfaces meet.
    • PGM provides information for building nanostructures, anti-wear coatings, and the surfaces of a variety of materials. One application is the study of anti-wear additives in motor oil that coat moving parts and extend engine life.
    • VLS PGM beamline page.
  4. High Resolution Spherical Grating Monochromator (SGM)
    • This beamline uses long-wavelength (soft) X-rays, which have little penetration. This is useful for studying chemical properties of materials.
    • Used in soil sciences, materials studies, and geology. The techniques has been used to follow nitrogen speciation through a cow’s digestive system.
    • Study of oxides, some of which are destructive, while others actually protect surfaces. Used in developing new paints and coatings.
    • SGM beamline page.
  5. Soft X-ray spectromicroscopy (SM)
    • Spectromicroscopy analyzes how light interacts with matter and images matter as in microscopy.
    • SM is particularly useful in the study of thin films and surfaces, and can provide detailed images of cell walls. It is also used in study of commercial molecules, such as polymers.
    • SM beamline page.
  6. Resonant Elastic and Inelastic Soft X-ray Scattering (REIXS)
    • For atomic-scale microscopy with applications in environmental science and advanced materials development.
    • REIXS Uses monochromatic, coherent X-ray radiation to zoom in on an atom and its local environment.
    • Allows researchers to determine electronic, chemical and magnetic properties of materials.
    • Used in biomaterials research, nanoscale electronics development, and for the next generation of quantum devices.
    • REIXS beamline page.
  7. Canadian Macromolecular Crystallography Facility (CMCF-ID)
    • Crystals scatter x-ray beams because of their wavelength. In crystallography, researchers collect data on how the light scatters, to construct an atom-by-atom model of the molecule.
    • Used primarily to understand protein structures, which is important to the knowledge of fundamental processes in virtually all fields of biological and medical sciences.
    • CMCF-ID is capable of satisfying the requirements of the most challenging and diverse crystallographic experiments (physically small crystals with large unit cell dimensions).
    • CMCF-ID beamline page.
  8. High Throughput Macromolecular Crystallography (CMCF-BM)
    • For detailed, atomic-scale images of molecules like viral and bacterial proteins. Research includes determination of new structures of proteins, nucleic acids and other macromolecules, high resolution structural analyses, drug design, protein engineering and proteomics.
    • Remote-access beamline. Scientists will be able to send pre-frozen crystals to the facility and be able to set up experimental parameters as well as inspect, evaluate, and download their data from their home laboratories via the Internet
    • Short-wavelength or hard x-rays have been used since 1895 for identifying atomic structure.
    • CMCF-BM beamline page.
  9. Very Sensitive Elemental and Structural Probe Employing Radiation from a Synchrotron (VESPERS)
    • Delivers micro-focused hard x-rays to solid materials, so that they can be analyzed with x-ray diffraction analysis, x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, and x-ray absorption spectrometry.
    • Research mainly in earth and materials sciences, as the method can determine trace elements and crystal structure in microsamples.
    • Used in the study of transportation of toxic element traces in soils.
    • VESPERS beamline page.
  10. Soft X-ray Beamline for Microcharacterization of Materials (SXRMB)
    • Uses wavelengths of light between soft and hard X-rays.
    • Applied mostly to study of transition elements. Used in material, life, environmental, geological, surface and soil science.
    • SXRMB beamline page.
  11. Hard X-ray Microanalysis (HXMA)
    • Hard X-rays used in X-ray absorption spectroscopy, diffraction, and microprobes.
    • Provides detailed information about the structure and chemical properties of molecules in samples.
    • Used to determine fate of contaminants such as arsenic in mine wastes, or mercury from fish in the human diet.
    • HXMA beamline page.
  12. Synchrotron Laboratory for Micro and Nano Devices (SyLMAND)
    • Unique in North America, SyLMAND will be dedicated to fabricating extremely small components – 100 to 1,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair – that can be used in revolutionary microelectromechanical (MEMS) devices.
    • SyLMAND beamline page.
  13. Biomedical Imaging and Therapy (BMIT)
    • Unique in North America, the facility’s two beamlines will offer advanced imaging for biological tissue in unprecedented detail, as well as high-precision radiation therapies for cancer.
    • Core research programs include human and animal reproduction, cancer imaging and treatment, spinal cord injury and repair, cardiovascular imaging and disease, bone growth and development, arthritis and athletic injuries, dental conditions, mammography, developmental biology, gene expression research, development of new imaging methods as well as extending present imaging capabilities.
    • BMIT-ID (imaging tissue) beamline page.
    • BMIT-BM (radiation therapy) beamline page.
Floor plan of the CLS Experimental Hall, showing the location of Phase 1 and 2 Beamlines

Floor plan of the CLS Experimental Hall, showing the location of the beamlines

Phase III Beamlines - these new beamlines were announced in November, 2006 with initial funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. They are currently under design and early stages of construction:

  1. The Brockhouse X-ray Diffraction and Scattering Sector (BXDS):
    • Two beamlines which will be devoted to characterizing the structure of a wide variety of materials for applications such as advanced alloys and polymers, novel batteries, food science and petroleum products.
  2. Life Science Beamline for X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (BioXAS):
    • Two beamlines to be used to study biological and health-related metals, in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, as environmental toxins, in metal-containing drugs, and as essential constituents of living systems.
  3. The Quantum Materials Spectroscopy Centre (QMSC):
    • This beamline will be used to conduct research into the electronic properties of novel materials, with applications from high-performance computing to energy storage technologies.

Examples of CLS Science:

More examples of CLS science are available here.