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Remote research now possible at Canada’s synchrotron


Saskatoon, SK – Researchers across the country will soon have access to the Canadian Light Source synchrotron at the University of Saskatchewan right from their desktops, thanks to an ultrafast computer link pioneered by the Alberta Synchrotron Institute (ASI) at the University of Alberta and Canarie, Canada’s advanced Internet development organization.

“It’s like having a synchrotron on your desktop,” says Ernst Bergmann, ASI’s executive director, who in April successfully tested the system from his Edmonton office. “Remote access will allow protein crystallographers and eventually other synchrotron researchers to greatly reduce travel time, turn around experiments faster, and use the synchrotron facility much more effectively.”

The $300,000 initiative, an advanced applications project sponsored by Canarie, brings the synchrotron to a researcher’s desktop. It links researchers in Edmonton and Calgary directly to a protein crystallography beamline of the CLS in Saskatoon.

Using dedicated fibre optic networks, called lightpaths, from Netera Alliance, SRNet, Canarie and BigBangwidth, researchers can view synchrotron experiments, directly control their samples using remote manipulation, and transfer data back to their home labs in real time.

The project uses Canada’s research network, CA*net4, and local lightpath networks to transfer information at rates up to 1 billion bytes per second, the equivalent of two DVD discs. It provides a fast, predictable and totally secure connection from a researcher’s lab to a control computer at the CLS beamline.

Dedicated links are created on demand from the user’s desktop to the remote facility. BigBangwidth’s Lightpath accelerator system makes these links simple and effective, so researchers can just point and click to access the synchrotron. The beamline control software, videos and instruments used at the CLS are available in real time and with perfect fidelity for the remote researcher.

For now, the remote access link is available only on the Canadian macromolecular crystallography facility (CMCF) beamline at the CLS, and only from Edmonton and Calgary. By the end of 2006, many more Canadian researchers will have remote access thanks to a follow-up project funded by Canarie, BigBangwidth and IBM that will extend dedicated fibre optic networks to other research centres across the country. The new project, under Canarie’s intelligent infrastructure program, will also allow connection to the new Vespers beamline for material sciences at the CLS.

At the same time, the facility recently reported the publication of the first research papers resulting from experiments performed at Canada’s national synchrotron facility.

The research groups, whose papers appeared online the same day, are from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Western Ontario.