World-first in laser research

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McGill Reporter
April 8, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 14
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 36: 2003-2004 > April 8, 2004 > World-first in laser research

World leader in laser research

McGill physicist Mark Sutton will soon be using the world's most powerful multi-wavelength lasers for his experiments.

Sutton has joined an international research facility, the new Advanced Laser Light Source (ALLS) project based in Quebec, which will bring together biologists, chemists and physicists from Canada to Japan.

Funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the ALLS project will be headquartered in Varennes on the South Shore, at the Université du Québec's Institut national de la recherche scientifique.

The CFI has invested $21

million to support the development of the ALLS femtosecond system, which will be comprised of five lasers (at one quadrillionth of a second, a femtosecond is a thousand times faster than a nanosecond). The ALLS facility will be the first of its kind in the world to use a mutli-laser approach in the dynamic investigation of matters.

"Each extra wavelength will enable researchers to extract more information from their tests," explains Sutton, who is also director of McGill's Centre for the Physics of Materials.

Indeed, the ALLS technology will allow researchers to further manipulate matter and probe its dynamics in a way that is not currently possible. For example, the ALLS technology will enable specialists to detect diseases such as breast cancer at an even earlier stage.

"The ALLS technology will give scientists the flexibility needed to analyze changing molecular structures or to determine where every atom is at every time during a chemical reaction," explains Sutton, a leader in the development of X-ray Intensity Fluctuation Spectroscopy and its application to measuring the dynamics of materials on the nanometre-length scale. "ALLS will provide researchers with snapshots of the chemical reactions of biological systems."

The ALLS project involves a consortium of eight Canadian research centres: McGill, the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto, the University of Western Ontario, Université Laval and the National Research Council of Canada.

What's more, ALLS will attract scientists from several research institutes from the world over, including the Technical University of Vienna, the Paris-based École Polytechnique's Laboratoire d'Optique et Biologie, Japan's Rikken Research Centre, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility based in France.

In all, 76 researchers will have the opportunity to use this unique equipment for their research initiatives. It will take three to five years for the ALLS project to be installed in its new home. Many little pieces will need to be assembled, says Sutton - "enough pieces to fill a gymnasium."

Carmen Charette, interim CFI president and CEO, predicts the ALLS project will become a fundamental laboratory tool in biology, medicine, chemistry and physics: "This project has captured the imagination of the international laser research community."

Best of all, Sutton adds, ALLS technology will permit researchers of different disciplines to collaborate on several different tests simultaneously. Once it's up and running, he says, "The ALLS facility will be the most powerful union of laser technologies in the world."

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