February 5, 1999 Volume 6, Number 10

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Synchrotron project receives $1-million annual operating grant from MRC

A model of the proposed $173.6-million Canadian Light Source synchrotron, which has been endorsed by 16 other universities. The biggest scientific project ever undertaken in Canada.

The proposed Canadian Light Source synchrotron project at the U of S will get $1 million a year for five years in operating funds from the Medical Research Council (MRC) of Canada.

The MRC announced last week that it has given approval in principle to the CLS operating money as part of $108 million in grants awarded in the agency's bi-annual health research competition.

President Ivany says the MRC contribution is "most welcome news that brings this nationally important research facility project another step closer to becoming a reality."

MRC president Dr. Henry Friesen, meanwhile, stresses the facility's potential as a critical tool for research and development.

"Access to this technology in Canada will allow our health researchers the ability to sharpen our capacity to provide world-class, cutting-edge research, especially in areas such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals."

The project's estimated operating budget is $13.9 million (in 1998 dollars). With the MRC contribution, the project now has funding commitments of $8.6 million per year to operate the core facility. This includes $4.6 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), $2 million from the National Research Council (NRC), and $1 million from the U of S.

The remainder of the operating funding would be for beamline operations and would be obtained through user fees from industry, federal and provincial agencies, and others.

The proposed $173.6-million synchrotron, which has been endorsed by 16 other universities, would be the biggest scientific project ever built in Canada.

Synchrotron light, millions of times more intense than medical X-rays, would be used by both university and industry researchers to probe the structure of matter, develop new drugs, design new microchips for more powerful computers, manufacture tiny biomedical implants, and create new materials. Other medical applications include medical imaging and new techniques for medical diagnosis such as non-invasive angiography.

The CLS facility, which would be funded from public and private sources, could be under construction on the U of S campus as early as April. A key funding component is $56.4 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), an autonomous, federally funded granting body. A decision on that funding is expected by the end of March.

Ensuring Canadian researchers access to a synchrotron facility is the primary reason for building the CLS. At present, Canada is the only G7 country without a synchrotron facility. Canadian academic researchers now spend more than $1 million a year using synchrotron facilities in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. for their experiments.

Canadian access is less assured as demand for time on these state-of-the-art facilities becomes increasingly competitive. Canadian researchers find their wait for access can stretch from a few months to more than a year. This could lead to a "brain drain" of talented young scientists since researchers are drawn to the tools they need to practise their trade.

However, if the proposed synchrotron goes ahead, new research training opportunities will emerge. For example, it's expected that pharmaceutical companies will set up protein crystallography laboratories in Canada to study the three-dimensional structure of proteins, research that could lead to new and better drugs. Approximately 100 graduate protein crystallographers would be trained in Canada.

- Kathryn Warden

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