One of the world's few particle accelerators, the synchrotron at Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon creates incredibly strong beams of light to help researchers with medical and environmental science experiments.
When I first heard about a synchrotron stationed near the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, I knew had to visit it during my recent trip to the city. After all, there are only 40 in the world, and only one in Canada.
A synchrotron speeds up electrons to such a high velocity those particles run crazily fast around these massive rings constructed just west of Canadian Light Source. At this energy the electrons are travelling at 99.9998% of the speed of light. The result are beams of intense light around 6000 times stronger than sunlight. Those beams can be directed into experiments for "hard" X-rays, for instance, which can see deep inside cells into their molecular levels.
Synchrotron sources of light pack more photons into a smaller beam of light, CLS explains, offering researchers more information about their sample.
A view of a synchrotron at Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon. You can see the thick wires coiling around the facility
The floor of the synchtrotron, our tour guide told us, has to be isolated from any vibration that may affect the beam lines, messing up the projects. You won't see columns near any of the rings but support beams keep the entire building afloat.
A view of equipment wrapped in tinfoil at the synchotron at Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon.
Applications include visualizing proteins, analyzing chemicals working in soils, digging deep into bone structure for medical uses, such as studying what first causes arthritis.
On the Canadian Light Source website, they explain how the light beams can be applied for environmental research:
Synchrotron research allows scientists to examine the resulting emissions from fossil fuel burning plants. These harmful emissions often contain carbon, sulphur and nitrogen oxide components. Examine the resulting emissions from nickel smelters (to the right) to identify and measure the gases released. The air filter sample matches Nickel Sulphate, which is not a toxic substance. Synchrotron-based X-ray Absorption Near-Edge Structure (XANES) spectroscopy is increasingly being used to analyze and quantify the relative amounts of chemical species and oxidation states in natural environments and complex industrial process streams. Testing done at synchrotrons can measure the amount of gases being released and determine whether the amount is within environmental regulations.
A view of a synchotron at Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon. A synchotron creates incredibly powerful light for use by scientists and researchers
The tour let us see the vast storage and booster rings of the synchrotron, as thick wires coiled along bars and just above the floor. Equipment and lasers were covered in tinfoils, the guide explained, in order to make sure no moisture affected the devices, which could slightly alter the beam's focus or strength.
I found fascinating the application of synchrotron light to study outer space material. A microgram of comet dust was collected and analyzed by CLS scientists using beam lines, letting them determine the chemical make-up of this unique comet.
The synchrotron tours are worth the time spent finding CLS at UofS, so if you got a thing for particles and science, this facility is definitely a must-see.