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TRIUMF projects shine among CFI Innovation Fund recipients

12 October 2017

On the morning of October 12, 2017, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) announced a multi-million dollar investment package in support of science initiatives across the country, including several projects involving TRIUMF and its member universities. The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, shared the results of the CFI’s 2017 Innovation Fund competition at the University of Manitoba, awarding more than $554 million to support 117 projects at 61 universities, colleges, and research institutions across Canada.

Championed by partners at its member universities, seven TRIUMF-supported experiments and collaborations were among the award recipients. Here's a look at those seven: 

Slow-moving neutrons with the promise of unlocking fundamental mysteries of the universe

(Image: Several members of the UCN team at TRIUMF in front of the main cryostat)

The ultra-cold neutron (UCN) experiment, which chills and captures neutrons, will work to develop new magnetic sensing tools and techniques to study ultra-cold, sluggish neutrons. While these new technologies may have broad applications in medical diagnostic imaging and other high-tech fields, they also hold promise for unlocking one of the longest-standing mysteries of the Universe. Should the UCN team be successful in illustrating an electric dipole moment within the neutron, they may discover details of why there is more matter in our Universe than antimatter- a potentially Nobel-worthy revolution in our understanding of physics.

“We are very excited about the announcement that CFI is supporting our project! This funding is essential to upgrade our ultracold neutron (UCN) facility and conduct the neutron electric dipole moment (nEDM) experiment. It will enable us to deliver on our promises of creating a world-leading UCN facility and make a competitive nEDM measurement. All of the funding builds on a previous CFI investment that was used to construct a new proton beamline at TRIUMF and install the current UCN source. The 15 young scientists in our group, from undergraduates to post-docs, will benefit the most from this since the funding secures their research topics for years to come.”

Dr. Ruediger Picker - UCN Research Scientist at TRIUMF

The CFI investment builds on past Foundation investments towards ultra-cold neutron research at TRIUMF, which has been led by Dr. Jeffery Martin of the University of Winnipeg in collaboration with the University of Northern BC (UNBC), and the Japanese research institutions High-Energy Research Accelerator Organization (KEK) and the Research Centre for Nuclear Physics (RCNP)

Isotope harvesting using TRIUMF’s ARIEL facility

(Image: TRIUMF scientists and engineers installing an isotope beamline prototype in ARIEL)

One of the most promising innovations in cancer treatment science is the development of drug therapies containing radioactive isotopes. Drugs that deliver short-lived, high-energy isotopes directly to the cancer site have proven to be effective in killing cancer cells and limiting incidental harm to surrounding tissues. However, the radioactive atoms required to create isotope therapies are scarcely available and only produced in a handful of facilities worldwide.

"This award represents a significant investment in non-reactor-based isotope production in Canada and reaffirms TRIUMF’s ability to evolve and maintain relevance in the fast-moving world of accelerator science. TRIUMF has a long and commendable track-record of achievements on the low-energy frontier using our array of smaller cyclotrons, but this investment will enable us to explore new utility for TRIUMF’s 500MeV cyclotron. We’ll be able to produce isotopes that no one else in Canada can- and to share them. CFI has set the stage for TRIUMF to provide a potent supply of crucial isotopes for Canada, as well as to bring to the international community for research and application." 

Dr. Paul Schaffer, Associate Lab Director, Life Sciences Division

The Advanced Rare Isotope Laboratory (ARIEL) at TRIUMF is one such facility, and, once fully online, holds immense promise for establishing Vancouver as an isotope production hub in North America. The CFI funding will leverage existing infrastructure and expertise in isotope production at TRIUMF and the University of British Columbia; specifically, the awarded funds will be used to design a targeting system that enables the symbiotic production and harvesting of important therapeutic medical isotopes for research and development in BC and across Canada.

Hybrid PET-MRI scanner

(Image: An MRI scanner at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health)

PET-MRI is an emerging hybrid imaging technology that combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with positron emission tomography (PET). PET-MRI scanners, which have been commercially available only since 2010, provide twin surveillance of metabolic elements (where certain proteins are accumulating, where substances are produced or consumed, etc.) derived from PET scans with MRI-derived structural information, like the location and connectivity of certain parts of the brain. This comprehensive new imaging method can offer new insight into mechanisms of disorder within the brain, brain function, and more.

The CFI-funded PET-MRI laboratory, to be installed in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health at the University of British Columbia (UBC), will combine the production capacity for PET medical isotopes at TRIUMF and with UBC’s existing MRI expertise in one comprehensive brain research laboratory. The PET-MRI facility will allow the TRIUMF-UBC collaboration to drive cutting-edge research in brain science for the benefit of patients in Canada and around the world.


ATLAS/LHC upgrades

(Image credit: CERN / the inner ATLAS cavern at the LHC at CERN)

The ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is an international particle physics collaboration that searches for scientific revelations in the head-on collisions of subatomic particles of extraordinarily high energy. ATLAS is investigating the basic forces that have shaped our Universe since the beginning of time and those that will determine its fate.

The CFI investment will enable researchers at TRIUMF and across Canada to build state-of-the-art particle physics detectors for the ATLAS experiment at CERN to explore the nature of the Higgs boson and new phenomena at the energy frontier. This continued support of ATLAS may allow us to answer some of the most important questions in particle physics, like whether there are new forces or new fundamental particles yet to be discovered, or whether there are extra dimensions of space-time at distance scales that we haven’t yet probed. This investment holds great promise for advancing understanding in modern particle physics.”

Dr. Bernd Stelzer, High Energy Physics Research Group, SFU

M9 beamline upgrade

(Image: M9 beamline at TRIUMF)

For nearly four decades, TRIUMF has been home to a unique facility that exploits a subatomic particle called a muon. Created in high-energy collisions between TRIUMF’s proton beam and a target, short-lived muons can be used as magnetic probes in materials and to study certain chemical reactions. Researchers from within Canada and around the globe rely on TRIUMF’s muon facility- part of the Centre for Molecular and Material Sciences (CMMS)- to conduct investigations and experiments on superconductors, exotic magnetic materials, semiconductors, battery materials, and chemical reactions.

The CFI funding supports a collaborative effort between TRIUMF's CMMS muon facility and Simon Fraser University to upgrade the M9 muon beamline, which will provide unmatched capabilities for using muons to study quantum systems. The new infrastructure will have long-term environmental and economic benefits for Canada through the transfer of knowledge to promote future quantum information, communications, and green chemistry technologies, as well as to support the development of a next-generation, supercritical, water-cooled nuclear reactor

SNOLAB photodetector infrastructure

(Image credit: SNOLAB / the DEAP-3600 dark matter detector at SNOLAB

Extremely sensitive particle detectors have been at the heart of many recent physics discoveries, including the 2015 Nobel prize-winning discovery that neutrinos are not massless. Thanks to a particle detection research team at SNOLAB (formerly SNO- Sudbury Neutrino Observatory) in Ontario, we now know that neutrinos do indeed have mass, and even oscillate between different masses (or ‘flavours’).

Now, new SNOLAB researchers from Carleton University have received nearly 3.1 million dollars in additional funding from CFI to develop and build special noble gas technologies to detect rare subatomic processes thought to be involved with dark matter. The funding will enable the development of liquid xenon and argon experiments to probe dark matter and neutrino physics by enhancing detection sensitivity for photons stemming from dark matter-matter collisions. The funding is also expected to enable new high-sensitivity and high-speed photon detection technology with applications ranging from medical imaging to self-driving cars.

$1M of the total project budget, including $400,000 from CFI, will be invested at TRIUMF for photodetector research infrastructure.

ATLAS Tier-1 data centre upgrade

(Image: The Tier-1 ATLAS centre, currently hosted at TRIUMF)

The TIER-I ATLAS centre at TRIUMF intakes and processes nearly 10% of the data from the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. CFI has announced funding in support of a TRIUMF-SFU initiative to migrate the TIER-I centre to SFU’s Research Data Centre on the university’s Burnaby campus. This collaboration will expand SFU’s supercomputing capabilities with a new data centre at the ‘Cedar’ supercomputing facility, support ATLAS efforts, and provide supercomputing services for a diverse array of other projects.

As a hub for high-powered computing and expertise, Cedar will further establish B.C. as a technology and innovation hub within North America. The Centre will offer unique opportunities for researchers, students, and user communities to engage in technical skills training, particle physics data analysis, and more. 

This announcement marks an important milestone for CFI, which has now funded over 10,000 science infrastructure projects since its inception in 1997. Click here for the full press release from CFI.