X-Ray microscopy conference brings scientists from around the world to Saskatoon

"I did not know much about Saskatoon, but I knew the Canadian Light Source is here. I've always wanted to come at least once in my life," German researcher Sara Koster said.

300 researchers from 24 countries are attending XRM2018 this week in the city.

Canada's synchrotron, the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon. (Canadian Light Source Inc, cc-by-sa-2.0)

Sara Köster is a researcher at the University of Göttingen in Germany, but she says Saskatoon has been on her radar for the last ten years.

"I did not know much about Saskatoon, but I knew the Canadian Light Source is here. I've always wanted to come at least once in my life," she said.

Saskatoon is hosting the XRM2018 conference, an international gathering of scientists and researchers who use x-ray microscopy. Previous conferences were held in Oxford and Melbourne.

Over the past decade, the technology used in x-ray microscopy has improved exponentially.

"It's really advancing more and more. With better technology and detectors and sources of radiation, better data processing procedures, better sample preparation procedures, it all goes hand in hand," said Köster 

Molecular innovation

Synchrotrons like the Canadian Light Source (CLS) use accelerated particles to give researchers the closest possible look at cells.

"Usually you would use visible light in a microscope to study cells. We like to use x-rays because they have a shorter wavelength," said Köster.

That means scientists can see smaller things in the cells than if they used a microscope.

Sarah Köster is a researcher from Germany. She presented at the Saskatoon conference Monday, and says the city has been on her radar for years. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)

Köster's research in Germany focuses on biological cells and their function in the human body. One of her projects focuses on the tiny sensors in the human ear.

"When sound comes into the ear, then these sensors translate that sound into a signal that our brain can understand. If we can understand how that works in the healthy ear, we can eventually also understand what goes wrong when someone can't hear that well anymore," she said.

The conference allows researchers from various countries to collaborate and learn about each other's researchers.​ Köster has already met others she wants to collaborate and work with just one day into the conference. 

The gathering is also beneficial to those at the CLS itself.

"People get to see what we do at the Canadian Light Source, it gives us ideas of new research we can do here, and we may get new users to come to Saskatoon to use the facility," said conference organizer and University of Saskatchewan chemistry professor Stephen Urquhart.

Repairs underway

Stephen Urquhart, conference organizer, says XRM2018 is a big opportunity for Saskatoon and the Canadian Light Source. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)

In July, the CLS had to be shut down for repair of the electron source. During the repairs, staff found an issue with the electron gun's power supply.

"We are awaiting the arrival of highly specialised test equipment to conduct very high voltage testing next week," said CEO Robert Lamb in a statement to CBC News.

"Installation will follow the testing, and we are on track to meet the restart date of November 16."

While the synchrotron is scheduled be functional by mid-November, the research being conducted when the shut down occurred will resume in January, due to research cycling at the facility.

About the Author

Bridget Yard


Bridget Yard is a video journalist based in Saskatoon. She has also worked for CBC in Fredericton and Bathurst, N.B.