By Nick Krewen
Two years ago, when Mike Costello needed spectral analysis to test a gear oil additive on a used automotive part for its effectiveness, there was only one enterprise capable of giving him results: Saskatoon’s Canadian Light Source (CLS.)
Citing the company’s expertise in lubricant chemistry, Mr. Costello, technical lead of Manual Transmission Fluids for chemical production giant BASF, explains why CLS’s specialty in the field of synchrotron radiation was exceptional and a perfect fit for analyzing the additive’s outcome on metal.
“It’s very specific to the type of atom that you’re looking for and the type of radiation you’re looking for,” Mr. Costello expounds from his office in Tarrytown, New York. “There are only a couple of synchrotrons that do that, and CLS has actually tested metal parts before with lubricant additives, so they have a lot of expertise in looking for the right chemicals on the surface of metal parts. There isn’t any other synchrotron that’s actually ever done that. They’re already sort of pre-trained, as it were.”
Mr. Costello says that collaborating with the CLS “sped up the process ten times” and “saved several years of effort in other labs I would have to use.”
“As soon as I sent them the samples, they knew exactly what I needed, how to run the tests and how to interpret the results. They just hit the ground running and it was fantastic.”
Mr. Costello’s story is not just unique to the chemical production industry: since it was established in 2004, the Saskatoon-based CLS has used a combination of synchrotron radiation and scientific expertise to benefit a diverse variety of trades and disciplines, ranging from agriculture, mining and aerospace to energy storage and medicine.
“We touch on so many different industry sectors that it’s phenomenal where we actually have benefit,” notes Dr. Jeffrey Cutler, the Canadian Light Source’s chief industrial science officer.
He doesn’t mince words when expressing his organization’s global impact or regarding how much it’s raised the profile of its home province.
“The CLS put Saskatchewan on the global scientific map,” he states.
Employing 220 people, and housed in a football-field-sized hangar-shaped headquarters on the University of Saskatchewan campus, the CLS has been responsible for a number of innovations since its 2004 opening, including a series of processes that creates “Molybdenum-99, which is the medical isotope that you’d get at Chalk River or some of the other research reactors that has a huge relevance to medical imaging applications,” Dr. Cutler explains.
“We’ve actually spun it off as a company called Canadian Isotope Innovations and they’re looking as a source to stream M-99 into the marketplace as a product that we developed and sold as well.”
The most recent economic impact studies conducted between 2009 and 2011 reveal that the CLS adds $45 million yearly to Canada’s GDP.
The only research facility of its kind in Canada, running 24 hours, six days a week, the CLS is a particle accelerator using 15 experimental stations, or “beamlines,” of synchrotron light what Dr. Cutler describes as “the light at the bottom of a microscope.”
“Synchrotron light is really a probe, or a source of light, to look at how things are put together,” explains Dr. Cutler, who conducted his first synchrotron experiments in 1986.
“It’s a very bright source of light, and the brighter the light you have, the smaller the things you can look at. You can push down detection limits so you can look at things in smaller quantities, and this very bright light can be used to zero right in and help understand the fundamentals of the material or the system – the macroscopic property – or how they behave.
“You can apply this to a myriad of different industry sectors or research areas, all using the same type of light, but using different colours of light, different beam sizes, whatever the case may be.”
Dr. Cutler says the synchrotron light is funneled through a tube.
“It’s a pipe where you put an electron beam in or charge-particle beam, and have them go through a series of magnets, so it’s an accelerator,” he clarifies. “It’s a very small tube that goes through a series of magnets. At any time that beam of charged particles, or electrons, in this case, goes within a magnet, they’re prompted to change direction. When they change direction, they radiate – they give off the light the researchers want to use.”
It’s a source that both scientific and industrial researchers are lining up for, notes Dr. Cutler, who says the CSL facility can’t keep up with demand.
“At many levels, it’s an oversubscribed facility,” he concedes, adding that construction of six more beamlines is currently underway, with completion scheduled by 2018.
Partially funded by the Saskatchewan government and other stakeholders such as the Canada Foundation For Innovation, the CLS is “picking areas of pre-eminence, areas where we can really deal with major issues in Canada – agriculture/food security, health, clean technologies, environment and also what we loosely call advanced materials,” says Dr. Cutler.
“We’re trying to keep Canada at the leading edge of innovation, and really help Canadian companies and academics show that we’re creating technology, we’re exporting it. and that we’re creating new knowledge that has importance across the globe. The CLS a role to play at a national and international level.”