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LRT could give McMaster’s big microscope a jolt

Pricey changes to Hamilton’s planned LRT line are needed to avoid shaking up one of the most powerful electron microscopes in the world.

Lost amid the reams of recent information on costs and benefits of the $1-billion project are two city-sponsored studies on the impact of vibration and electromagnetic fields along an electrified light rail transit line.

The proposed western terminus of the line is McMaster University, which is home to the world-renowned Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy and its two-storey-high transmission electron microscope.

“There are not even a handful (of microscopes) of this calibre in the world,” said scientific director Gianluigi Botton, who added researchers from around the globe come to the centre to conduct experiments in fields such as photonics and nanomedicine. “We are working at the level of individual atoms … we need to have a very stable environment for our experiments.”

A study by Hatch Mott MacDonald has determined a typical electrified LRT line using an overhead contact system would interfere with the centre’s technology, particularly when train cars brake or accelerate.

How sensitive is the equipment? The microscope rests on a concrete “isolation slab” separate from the surrounding building, itself specially wired and built to minimize vibration and stray electromagnetic fields.

Despite those measures, Botton said nearby construction — or even a single faulty electrical outlet in the building — has caused problems in the past.

“If you plugged in a badly rewired kettle (in the building), we’d pick it up,” said the professor in materials science and engineering.

The consultant’s report suggests several “very promising” possible solutions, but acknowledges “most of the proposed mitigations are technically challenging and will lead to the increase of the associated costing.”

Physically moving the purpose-built centre, for example, would cost more than $10 million, according to the report.

Source: Hamilton Spectator

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