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Lights out at the Canadian Light Source: over a month of beam time lost due to cooling failure

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The only light emitted from the Canadian Light Source these days comes from the overhead bulbs.

The synchroton is no longer emitting any light after a failure of the system’s cooling plant shut down the light source and all research being done at the facility.

Research at the Canadian Light Source was brought to a halt last month after the cryoplant, the cooling system for the synchrotron, failed Oct. 6.

A power outage that occurred at the CLS Sept. 26 caused a pump to back up, resulting in a back flow of oil vapour. The oil vapour made it difficult for the liquid helium to cool down the RF cavity, which gives electrons power boosts as they make their way around the ring.

With the cryoplant unable to cool effectively, the synchrotron cannot operate.

The CLS has elected a user advisory committee to prioritize lost beam time for users and has invited them to reapply for the next phase, scheduled to resume in January.

“We have a process for prioritization for those things,” Executive Director of the CLS Josef Hormes said. “I hope we can at least mitigate the [high priority cases]. It is always a risk if you work in facilities like this.”

Over a month of beam time was lost due to the failure as a maintenance period was scheduled for the beginning of November.

After working in synchrotron facilities for over 40 years, Hormes said that this kind of failure is not uncommon in these kinds facilities.

He noted that similar issues have occurred in five or six of the other facilities around the world using the same superconducting cavity, as well as a cryoplant manufactured by the Linde Group, a Switzerland-based engineering company.

“What we have observed now is not so uncommon with other facilities,” Hormes said. “That means it might be more on the vendor side but there is hardly any alternative.”

Hormes said that the CLS team has diligently followed a preventative maintenance plan supplied by the cryoplant vendor and that there will be a review process to determine if there was any way the failure could have been avoided.

He does not believe the failure of the cryoplant will affect the CLS’s funding prospects.

The CLS is revising its operating budget because the funding sources need to be resecured during the renewal period of the funding cycle.

Hormes said that it is too early to say when or if the CLS will receive all the funding that is needed, but added that it is not crucial the CLS receives the funding in the first and second years. He said, rather, that funds become more important by the third year of the cycle when the CLS tries to catch up on maintenance and upgrades.

“It’s nothing that will disturb our operation next year,” Hormes said. “We have to see the full four or five years.”

The operating budget for 2013-14 will be approximately $40 million, and will increase by five per cent for the following four to five years.

Separate from the research budget, the operational budget provides funds for salaries, maintenance and the power bill, which the CLS pays independently from the university since it is a separate organization.

In the previous funding period, a large portion of the operational funding was secured in the second and third years of the cycle. It is unusual for the CLS to acquire all of the funding for the operational budget at the beginning of the cycle.

The CLS has confirmed that the Canadian Foundation for Innovation will fund 40 per cent of the operating budget and that the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada has agreed to fund $5.6 million over five years, beginning in 2013.

The CLS is also currently negotiating with the province regarding funds and plans to submit a proposal for funding to Western Economic Diversification Canada, a program that supports diversification, innovation and community level economic development in Western Canada.

Greg Fowler, acting vice-president of finance and resources for the U of S, said that the university has set aside $1.1 million to help fund the CLS’s operations.

Hormes said that various factors, such as the current economic climate, need to be taken into account when securing funding for major research facilities.

“It could very well be that the economic situation is not marvelous at this point in time,” Hormes said. “Therefore we don’t worry too much at this point in time because I hope within the next years the situation will improve.”

[box type=”info”]Facilities built then dropped

The federal government has a solid history of providing funds to build state-of-the-art research centres like the CLS, but U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac feels the projects do not receive enough support to cover the sky-high operating costs.

Busch-Vishniac was in Ottawa Oct. 23 and spoke to the federal finance committee about the difficulties that universities face with research funding and talked of the struggles associated with large research facilities.

“I suggested that Canada lacks a clear science and technology strategy,” Busch-Vishniac wrote to the Sheaf in an email.

“It is odd that we get federal funding to build great labs (like CLS and InterVac) but then we receive little or no funding to operate them. This has routinely been a problem for our national facilities and it makes no sense to operate like this.”[/box]


Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

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