CLS synchrotron: big science helping small business.

Author:Collingridge, Shirley

Ten years after the start of its construction in Saskatoon, the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Canada's national centre for synchrotron research, remains in the limelight. The CLS employs light a million times brighter than the sun to solve seemingly impossible puzzles. This remarkable tool has the potential to revolutionize business, ranging from sole proprietorships to multinationals in every field.

With its ability to function at the molecular level, the synchrotron's capabilities appear limitless: from defining the enzyme the Norwalk virus uses to replicate its genetic code, to identifying minute metal contamination in mine tailings, to examining live animals.

Jeff Cutler, CLS Director of Industrial Science, calls the province's synchrotron the "cadillac of research tools" because it is one of the most advanced of 45 such facilities worldwide. Radio frequency waves and powerful magnets accelerate electrons close to the speed of light, producing extremely bright synchrotron light. Scientists control the wavelength at user-end stations to reveal the microstructure and chemical properties of a range of materials.


CLS Industrial Staff Scientist Julie Thompson says the synchrotron is invaluable in identifying materials problems for industry, aerospace and the medical field.

"Even just looking at simple metals or residue, there could be trace elements that the company didn't expect," she says.

"The way it usually works elsewhere is that you can do industrial work but you have to do it yourself and figure out what it is you want to do. We try to talk-to the clients very deeply in advance to make sure that we are doing the experiment that gives them the answer. We have a dedicated group of scientists who do the research. As the premiere synchrotron in the world for doing industrial research, we are also developing the methodology."

While an up to six-week waiting period is no real deterrent, Cutler says at first the $ 1,500 to $4,000 price tag per sample can deter small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

"The cost really depends on the client's question. In addition, this is not just the cost of the beam or experiment time," he says. "It includes staff time and discussions to determine what kind of sample or material will give us the optimal return on the client's dollar."

CLS Industrial Staff Scientist Jeff Warner explains CLS's efficient, thorough regimen.

"Once interest has been defined by the client, I talk to them in more...

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