Volume 11, Number 14 March 19, 2004

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Work continues, new beamlines announced at CLS

The Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron
The Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron.
Photo courtesy of CLS

Even as the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) announced March 8 it will fund 40 per cent of the capital cost of five new beamlines at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron, work continues on getting the original seven up and running by the end of the year.

Headed by teams from the U of S, the University of Western Ontario and the University of British Columbia, the new beamlines will be used for research as diverse as improving medical imaging techniques and finding trace elements in ore samples. The CFI portion of the funding amounts to just over $18 million. An equivalent amount is expected to come from the provinces of Saskatchewan, Ontario and B.C., with the remaining 20 per cent of the cost to be raised by each “beam team”, said Bill Thomlinson, synchrotron executive director.

Declining to comment on where negotiations are at with the provinces, Thomlinson said “we will work with (all) three to see if they can achieve the necessary matching funding”. In the case of beam team fundraising, he said most is expected to come from industry but pointed out that 17 health organizations, mainly from Saskatchewan, have already committed $2.9 million to the new biomedical imaging beamline.

“We’ve got almost what we need of the $3.4 million in place already (20 per cent of that beamline’s $17-million cost), and that’s extraordinary. Nobody believed it could be done. It’s a huge amount of money to put in the bank before you have a product to deliver.”

Bill Thomlinson
Bill Thomlinson

Thomlinson has a special affinity for the biomedical beamline which he calls his “great-grandchild”, it being the third he has been involved in developing over his career. He was a key player in setting up the biomedical beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Brookhaven, New York in the 1980s, and in the 1990s, assisted with an “even bigger and better” one at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.

While the new beamlines are “three years, plus or minus” from operation, four of the original ones are currently under construction and “I anticipate they will be actively commissioned – taking a light – by the summer,” he said. The remaining three are in the final stages of procurement, with some components still to be delivered. Their commissioning is expected through the autumn.

Thomlinson explained that commissioning is an extended start-up process, “going from zero power to full power, doing safety checks” and generally ensuring all is in working order. Commissioning is being done now on the accelerator itself but “we’ve just discovered a significant problem with the storage ring. It will take a couple of weeks to fix and it will perhaps be our last step back.”

The commissioning process in experimental facilities like the synchrotron also “often means you’re doing something new. I hope that will be happening because we’re anxious for the new science to start.”

When asked what delayed the original January 2004 opening date for the CLS, Thomlinson’s reply was succinct – “reality”. Each beamline evolved through the design and procurement stages at its own pace, “phasing themselves in nicely”. It was, in fact, fortuitous that it happened that way because “if we’d tried to do all seven (beamlines) at once, we wouldn’t have had the resources.”

Delays in delivery of components played a role in pushing back the opening “but we don’t point fingers (at vendors). We’ve been slow too.”

As work continues, the CLS is scheduled to go before Canada’s Nuclear Safety Commission June 8 for a final review of facility operations and a look at radiological safety relating to employees, users and the general public. No hitches are expected, he said, adding the stringent review process “focuses you on those elements that are important – building a safer, more efficient facility”.

The commission is expected to issue its findings within a month of the hearing.

Despite being what he called “resource limited”, Thomlinson said the most signification achievement at the CLS is that “we’re on budget, and that’s extraordinary considering we’re just a bit over four years” into the project.

As he prepares to move into the second phase of beamline development, Thomlinson is already considering the end of his term as executive director. He may return to research “when the dust settles, but I’ll be 65 before my contract ends (Nov. 1, 2007) and I’ll be retiring when I leave here”. He added that as much as he likes Saskatoon, his plan is to return to Finland, a country in which he has spent much time, “and I want to go back there when I’m healthy.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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