ESRF Upgrade Programme: The ESRF Upgrade science case

X-rays are ideally suited for studying matter at the atomic length- and time-scales. Scientists use brilliant beams of X-ray photons for experiments in physics, chemistry, health and life sciences, material sciences, environment, industrial research and increasingly cultural heritage.

Demand for high-brilliance X-ray beams is growing worldwide, with established and new user communities requiring increasing performance along with ease of access to and use of the light sources.

This is why new world-class light sources have been coming on line at a fast pace, with four synchrotrons inaugurated in Europe alone between 2006 and 2010. This also holds true for the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region, notably China. Free-electron lasers for hard X-rays complement synchrotrons already in the U.S. and Japan, and soon too in Europe.

At the ESRF, the user communities have been specifically demanding smaller nanosized beams with higher brilliance, improved facilities and instrumentation on the beamlines and not least more beamtime, or a higher throughput of experiments. The ESRF Upgrade Programme is serving this demand with the additional objective to maintain the ESRF’s role as the leading European provider of hard X-ray light.

The Upgrade focuses on five core areas of applied and fundamental research:

  • Nanoscience and nanotechnology
  • Pump-probe experiments and time-resolved diffraction
  • Science at extreme conditions
  • Structural and functional biology and soft matter
  • X-ray imaging

These five areas have been outlined in detail in the “Purple Book” published in October 2007.

To make this new science possible, technological and infrastructure developments are necessary in four areas:

  • World-class beamline portfolio
  • New instrumentation and technologies
  • Improved accelerator and source
  • More space for science

Europe has been a leader in X-ray science since the properties of synchrotron X-rays were examined in detail at DESY in Germany in the 1960s. In 1981, the world’s first dedicated X-ray-producing synchrotron was built at Daresbury in the UK. 25 years ago, 12 European countries pooled their resources for the construction of the ESRF, the world’s first “third-generation synchrotron” for hard X-rays. The main objective of the Upgrade Programme is to enable Europe’s scientists to maintain their leading role for the next ten to twenty years.

For more than a decade now, the ESRF has been the world’s leading synchrotron light source when measured in numbers of users, scientific output, and figures for reliability, stability and hours of user operation. A main challenge of the Upgrade Programme is to maintain this performance whilst completely rebuilding more than half of the beamlines and conducting major civil construction works across the site. Halfway through the Upgrade Programme, it has been possible to keep this promise.

Since 2005, the ESRF has been receiving between 1900 and 2100 experiment proposals per year, and this figure did not drop recently but increased despite a decrease of the capacity for experiments from 903 (2008) to 778 (2011) because of temporary beamline closures and civil construction works. These experiments involved 5500 to 7000 user visits per year and resulted in 1500 to 1800 scientific publication in peer-reviewed journals per year, again without any drop in recent years.

What is the main factor for a scientist to choose a light source? The answer is simple: beamlines which allow cutting-edge science. The ESRF Upgrade Programme is built around a portfolio of world-class beamlines. For many beamlines, the ESRF will continue to offer scientists capabilities which are unique in Europe, possibly even in the world, and all of its beamlines have the objective to offer performances among the best in the world.

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