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.
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:
An international team of researchers led by the University of Calgary determined the detailed structure of the enzyme used by the Norwalk virus to replicate its genetic code. The information provided by the structure is a key step to designing drugs that can disrupt this replication process, stopping Norwalk and possibly its deadlier cousins, such as Hepatitis C, from spreading.
Carbon nanotubes are being developed for a variety of applications, including electronic devices and sensors for medical applications. Mass-producing nanotubes that are free of impurities or random defects is a major challenge. Improving the manufacturing process depends on the ability to detect individual defects. Researchers from McMaster University and University of Namur first demonstrated that polarized synchrotron light can be used to spot these defects.
Synchrotrons allow researchers to understand the chemistry of mine tailing and effluents, thereby better managing risks to the environment. Scientists can study the chemistry of mine tailings and determine if metals in the tailings are stable or bio-available. The CLS can provide additional information on the nature of hazardous tailings to help remediate the affected areas and reduce the toxicity of these compounds. Uranium producer AREVA maintains ISO 14001 environmental accreditation using synchrotron data.
University of British researchers used the Canadian Light Source and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory synchrotrons to determine the molecular structure of ferritin, an iron storage protein recently discovered in a group of phytoplankton called pennate diatoms. The discovery sheds light on how ferritin contributes to the diatoms’ success and possible future implications for curbing atmospheric carbon dioxide. The work was published in the journal Nature.
Sulphur-containing chemicals are a common waste product of mines, posing risks both to the local environment as well as globally from the release of CO2 from carbonate minerals dissolved by sulphuric acid. Researchers found that bacteria isolated from a mine tailings pond in Northern Ontario actually mitigate the problem of acid mine drainage by using the sulphur in the tailings as an energy source. The discovery not only demonstrates how bacteria can modify their environment, but may also lead scientist to rethink the amount of CO2 produced by acid weathering that is included in models of the global carbon cycle.
More examples of CLS science are available here.