14 Mar 2016

U of S and CLS add powerful new research tool

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) will develop materials critical to sustainable energy development and other fields through a $577,000 investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

Part of a $1.4-million project by Andrew Grosvenor (Department of Chemistry), Ajay Dalai (Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering) and Robert Lamb (Department of Chemistry and the Canadian Light Source), the CFI funding will be used to purchase a state-of-the-art research instrument called an X-ray photoelectron spectrometer.

“This major investment will allow us to expand our critically important research into sustainable energy solutions and establish new research programs,” said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president research. “The instrument is a perfect complement to the Canadian Light Source synchrotron and will help our researchers push new boundaries of knowledge that will lead to new and improved materials.”

Through a powerful technique called X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), the spectrometer blasts a material sample with a beam of X-rays. By measuring the sample’s response to the X-rays, the instrument gives researchers highly detailed information about the material’s chemical makeup. The XPS instrument is unique because it analyzes only the surface of a material rather than its bulk. It is the only instrument able to provide the information on material surfaces that the three scientists require for their research.

“As materials scientists, we’re especially interested in the surfaces of materials because that’s where chemical reactions take place,” said Grosvenor, the project leader. “Until now, we haven’t had the ability to study those processes in detail. This equipment will provide us the opportunity to get detailed information about material surfaces that previously we could only infer.”

One application will be in Grosvenor’s research into nuclear waste disposal. His team works to identify materials suited for long-term storage of radioactive waste. With XPS, they will be able to test if these materials are stable enough to keep radioactive waste locked away for thousands of years.

Other uses for the new instrument include Dalai’s research into developing better catalysts for processing sustainable biofuels and Lamb’s work with developing functional nanomaterials—extremely small-scale materials with many applications including protective non-stick coatings and water-repellent textiles.

The instrument, to be installed at the Saskatchewan Structural Sciences Centre on campus later this year, will be used in conjunction with the Canadian Light Source synchrotron. Performing the majority of the surface spectroscopy experiments using the XPS will result in more efficient use of both facilities; only those experiments that will truly benefit from the use of synchrotron radiation will be performed at the CLS. XPS will be used to analyze the surface of a material and the synchrotron light will then be used to peer deep into the material’s depths, giving a more complete picture than ever before.

Industrial partners in the local mining, manufacturing, nuclear and biofuels industries—many of whom already have working relationships with the researchers—will benefit from research collaborations involving the instrument. Additionally, the instrument will help in the training of more than 30 students and post-doctoral researchers each year.

“Investments like today’s in Canada’s research infrastructure are incredibly important to the nation’s future. They give Canadian researchers the tools they need to make new discoveries that will better the lives of Canadians today and for years to come,” said Kirsty Duncan, federal science minister.

The CFI investment was announced this morning through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund alongside projects at other Canadian institutions. Matching funding for the CFI contribution will be sought from public and private sector sources.

For more information, contact:
Chris Putnam
Communications Officer
College of Arts and Science
University of Saskatchewan
306-966-1982
chris.putnam@usask.ca

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