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Students On The Beamlines

The Students on the Beamlines program is an immersive science research experience for high school students at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) – Canada’s national synchrotron facility. It provides an opportunity for students to drive the research process, and conduct experiments on one of the largest and most complex pieces of scientific equipment in Canada. Our students have taken part in the Students on the Beamlines program twice – in the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2019 and are actively preparing for our third group in the fall of 2020. All groups have worked with scientists at the CLS to design their experiments, followed by conducting their experiments on one of the CLS beamlines.

Our 2019 team visits the synchrotron control room where they learned
how operators regulate the production of X-Rays in the synchrotron

This unique opportunity is a science immersion program, where students experience research at a very high level. They are responsible for the initial idea for the experiment, and doing the background research to narrow in on their question. They must acquire samples and determine the treatments necessary for testing at the beamline. Lastly, after conducting the experiment, they analyze their data and present it to other scientists.

Jamie Laguerta (class of 2017) prepares samples for testing


In 2016, our first group of beamline students conducted research into the trace element composition of stages of the BC wine industry. They examined soil, grape and wine samples from seven Okanagan vineyards, primarily focusing on the elements copper, zinc and nickel.


Genevieve Olson (Class of 2018) collects grapes for testing at Serendipity Winery in the Okanagan

During their time at the Light Source our students toured the synchrotron, prepared their samples for testing, and spent an eight hour shift working with a CLS scientist to conduct their experiment.

Bronwyn Williams (Class of 2018) analyzes data as it comes in

Data collected analysing soil from the Vista D’oro Winery shows
the sort of chemical analysis done in this study

Their results are summarized on their poster. They found that trace element composition does transfer over from soil to grape, but not always to wine.

Click the image to see the full poster of our 2016 group

We are grateful for the support of several BC vineyards in the supplying of samples for this project, particularly: Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, Checkmate Artisanal Winery, Nighthawk Vineyards, Serendipity Winery and Vista D’oro Farms & Winery

The 2016 group was financially supported by: the Canadian Geological Foundation, the STMC Parents’ Association and an NSERC Promoscience grant.

The group’s project was written up by the Vancouver Sun.


Our students returned to the Light Source in heart of Saskatoon’s winter, in February of 2019. The team was originally slated to run their experiment in December of 2018, but issues with the vacuum seal of the synchrotron meant the machine wasn’t operational. This reinforced another important aspect of science – that your experiment depends on operational equipment!

The group decided to examine the effect of forest fires on trees from around British Columbia. The students contacted forestry companies across the province for advice and potential sources of samples, and settled on Douglas Fir trees, as they have a thick bark that gives them a fair bit of fire resistance.

Maya Becher (class of 2020) holds a tree cookie analysed in the 2019 group

While at the synchrotron, the group split their time between the Mistik Askiwin Dendrochronology (MAD) Laboratory and the light source, counting tree rings, and checking the elemental composition, looking for historic evidence of forest fires.

Our students get instruction on where they will place their samples during testing

Their results are summarized on their poster. They found evidence that chemical signatures of forest fires showed up in trees that had survived.

The group was awarded the Peer Review and the CLS Staff Vote prizes during the 2019 poster competition for schools taking part in the Students on the Beamlines program.

We are grateful for the support of several BC forestry companies in the supplying of samples for this project, particularly: Interfor Corporation, Canfor Corporation, Tolko Industries Ltd. and STMC alumnus Nick Ukrainetz.


STMC Alumnus Nick Ukrainetz talks tree physiology and forest fires with our young scientists

The 2019 group was financially supported by: TEMEC Engineering Ltd., Dakeryn Industries, Canfor Corporation, the STMC Parents’ Association and an NSERC Promoscience grant


Our third group started their project in the fall of 2019 with a plan of beamtime scheduled in September 2020.   That changed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and our Knights showed their resilience in completing a fully virtual version of their synchrotron experiment.

The group’s project focused on the effect of pesticides on the crystalline structure and elemental composition of beeswax.   They had access to the IDEAS beamline – the one usually used for educational projects at the CLS and were the first student group to use the Brockhouse beamline.

As we moved to remote instruction in the spring of 2020, the team connected with Dr. Leonard Foster, a researcher at UBC who studies the effect of pesticides on bees.   He helped the team refine their ideas and offered to collect samples for them as he collected beeswax for agrochemical testing.

Natalia Sawyer (’21) examines a beeswax sample provided by Dr. Leonard Foster, UBC

With travel to Saskatoon not an option, the team worked with the CLS staff to develop a remote version of the Students on the Beamlines experience.   They attended a virtual tour of the facility and learned about constructing an effective presentation.   Amanda Pfeiffer – a member of the CLS’s education team prepared the teams samples for testing, while the team watched from the school.

Members of our team working with the CLS’s Amanda Pfeiffer to prepare samples of beeswax for testing on the IDEAS beamline.

The experiment was run over two days, with students assembling in the school for data analysis in real time as their samples were tested first on the IDEAS beamline for elemental composition and then on the Brockhouse beamline for crystalline structure.

As CLS staff ran the samples through our team’s samples, the group analyzed the results

Pair Distribution Function analysis of all beeswax samples, showing information about the bond length between atoms in the wax. Results suggested long range structures present.

The presentation of their research took place in the school learning commons, with several staff members attending in person and CLS scientists, parents and other guests attending remotely.

The 2021 Beamline group’s presentation of results

The group’s results are summarized on their poster.  They did not find evidence of differences in elemental composition or crystalline structure in samples exposed to pesticides.   They did find that there may be long range structure within the beeswax samples – a topic for further study.  Their poster was awarded the Judges, Peer Reiew and CLS Staff Awards as part of the 2021 poster competition.


Our fourth group of synchrotron scientists has been accepted into the program with beamtime scheduled for the first half of 2022.  The group has chosen to study batteries – a topic of much interest at the CLS.

Our school is committed to taking part in the Students on the Beamlines Program because it provides a hands-on opportunity for students to engage in science. The experiential nature of these projects provides true insight into the fundamentals of research science, informing our young scientists with a wide range of possible career paths.


For more information on our Students on the Beamlines group, please contact Mr. Muise ()

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