Synchrotron facility sheds new light on agriculture research
The Canadian Light Source has been researching food and crop structure on the micrometer and nanometer levels
What does a state-of-the-art physics research facility incorporating electron guns, particle accelerators, beamlines and a cobweb of wires and vacuum tubes have to do with the texture of the linguine on your dinner table?
Scientists at the Canadian Light Source, a synchrotron light and radiation source facility at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, has been using a microtomography approach to acquire detailed, high-resolution 3D images of the numerous minuscule air bubbles in noodle dough.
These microscopic bubbles that evolve in the dough are part of the mix that influences the texture of noddles. Using the light at the CLS, researches are now able to image the bubbles at a 20-micrometer scale, opening up a rich line of inquiry into the fundamental chemistry and physics of noodle dough.
Above: Jeffrey Cutler, Chief Strategic Relations Officer of the CLS, explains the wide spectrum of applications of the cutting-edge synchrotron light source facility.
A synchrotron light source is a source of electromagnetic radiation formed by accelerating electrons using storage rings and other specialized particle accelerators.
Bursts of electrons are injected into an ultra-high vacuum stainless steel tube and they travel at almost the speed of light, after their kinetic energy is ratcheted up by microwaves.
Magnets inside a storage ring create strong magnetic fields perpendicular to the electron beam to bend its path to release light down beamlines, converting high energy into photons that can be millions of times brighter than the sun.
A large fraction of experiments at the CLS involves probing the structure of matter from the sub-nanometer level of electronic structure to the micrometer and millimeter level.
Above: Cutler explains the mechanisms of the facility.
Research at the CLS has ranged from viruses to superconductors to dinosaur fossils, and the facility is the only light source in the world providing solutions to plant and soil sciences, said Jeffrey Cutler, the Chief Strategic Relations Officer of CLS.
Nutrients in plant tissue and soil can be mapped on the micro and nano scale and internal structural details of living plants can also be studied in 3D.
New screening techniques harnessing the power of synchrotron light now also help crop breeders to swiftly examine and develop drought-resistant wheat varieties.
The non-destructive method to screen wheat leaf samples using the brightest light emitted from the CLS can link micro- and macro-nutrients in the leaves to drought tolerance, allowing for faster and less costly characterization of drought-tolerant wheat varieties than the current breeding process.
The same method is also applied to detecting diseases in plants and microbes: images of healthy and infected wheat spikes look the same externally, but the CLS X-ray images reveal internal structural differences.