The ESRF: A Model of International Cooperation

Anya Joly

ESRF welcomes 12 Swedish female science studentsPhoto: ESRF/C. Jarnias

In 2015 the ESRF welcomed 12 female science students from Sweden as part of its Synchrotron@School outreach programme.

ESRF industrial exhibitionPhoto: ESRF/C. Argoud

The industrial exhibition, Netherlands@GIANT, was held to facilitate links between Dutch industry and R&D partners from the GIANT Innovation Campus in Grenoble.

Francesco Sette with Sekazi Mtingwa holding African calling stickPhoto: ESRF/C. Argoud

Francesco Sette, ESRF Director General, with Sekazi Mtingwa, member of the African Light Source Steering Committee, holding the African calling stick during the opening address of the African Light Source Conference.

Observing matter and decoding its secrets are at the heart of humanity’s quest to improve the understanding of the world around us. Synchrotron radiation facilities offer unique tools to push back the boundaries of scientific investigations into new materials and living matter. As centres of excellence for fundamental research, light sources also play a key role in stimulating innovation and enhancing competitiveness for industry. In 1988, eleven countries, recognising synchrotron radiation as an essential tool for science, technology and industrial applications, and desiring to intensify scientific co-operation across disciplinary and national boundaries, joined forces to launch the construction of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility – the ESRF.

Over the years, further countries joined this ambitious project and today the facility, based in Grenoble, France, is supported by 21 partner nations, of which 13 are Members and 8 are Scientific Associates. Not limited to European nations, the ESRF’s most recent affiliates include the Russian Federation, which marked its accession to the ESRF Convention in June 2014, and South Africa, which signed a medium-term arrangement with the ESRF in May 2013. Israel also increased its participation in 2013, renewing its associate status for a further five years.

By fulfilling the objectives determined at its creation, the ESRF has established itself as the world’s most intense source of synchrotron-generated light and has been at the forefront of scientific research for over 20 years, providing unrivalled opportunities for an international community of scientists in the exploration of materials and living matter in a very wide variety of fields: material physics, chemistry, archaeology and cultural heritage, structural biology and medical applications, environmental sciences, information science and nanotechnologies.

Every year, around 4,000 researchers from more than 50 countries around the world come to the ESRF to access the 43 highly specialised beamlines, each equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation. The output of the ESRF is similarly impressive, with a record 26,000 refereed publications in top scientific journals in 20 years and four Nobel prizes awarded to laureates using the ESRF for their work. In 2011, for the first time ever, more than 1000 protein structures were deposited in a single year in the worldwide Protein Data Bank (PDB) from data collection at the ESRF [1].

Since its beginnings the ESRF has played a major role in the international science scene and continues to actively participate in major multinational projects, in particular as part of the European Union's research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. Examples include the European Cluster of Advanced Laser Light Sources (EUCALL), a €7m project designed to foster closer collaboration between major X-ray sources and advanced laser facilities, and the €12m NFFA-EUROPE project, which seeks to implement a full suite of key research infrastructures for nanoscience for the benefit of a broad community. The ESRF will also play a key role in charaterising diamond material for the Green Diamond project [2], which aims to develop high-power diamond electronic devices, to reduce the huge energy losses associated with electrical power transmission and transport.

The ESRF is active in promoting links with international industry, hosting events such as Netherlands@GIANT in June 2013, which provided an opportunity for the representatives of more than 20 Dutch high-technology businesses to meet and exchange ideas with Grenoble-based science and innovation leaders. The facility also has an impressive academic outreach programme, supporting the HERCULES school and establishing the International Student Summer Programme for undergraduates from all over Europe jointly with the Institut Laue-Langevin. In 2016, the Synchrotron@School programme will organise visits from 27 high-school classes to the ESRF, including students from Turkey, Germany and the UK.

Looking to the future, the facility has just completed its 168 m€ Phase I Upgrade Programme (2009-2015), with the creation of 19 new experimental stations, a new 8,000 sq m experimental hall and the upgrade and renewal of the majority of equipment. New concepts for accelerators have also emerged in recent years [3], leading to the possibility of building a new generation of storage rings with an increase in brilliance of two orders of magnitude. Key areas of research would benefit from such a project, including coherent diffraction imaging and microscopy in the mesoscopic scale, spectroscopy with nanometre spatial resolution, and time-resolved studies in the millisecond to sub-nanosecond scale, together with a high power MHz laser pump-probing programme.

The ESRF has been one of the leaders in the development of these new concepts and, in 2015, launched its new and final development phase of the Upgrade Programme: the ESRF Extremely Brilliant Source Programme, or ESRF-EBS. This new programme is centred on the construction of a new storage ring that will adopt an all-new hybrid multi-bend achromat lattice design with an equilibrium emittance of about 135 pm·rad [4] ‒ at least a factor of 10 better than any other synchrotron source of similar energy constructed or presently under construction and a factor 40 better than the present ESRF double-bend achromat lattice.

Graph of new Hybrid Multi Bend Achromat lattice expected to deliver x-ray beams

The new Hybrid Multi Bend Achromat lattice is expected to deliver X-ray beams to the ESRF beamlines with approximately 100 times increase in brilliance and coherence.

The European and international ambitions that have been the basis of the ESRF’s success will continue in the realisation of this project, which, according to ESRF Director General Francesco Sette, is central to maintaining the facility in its key position on the international science scene. “I am convinced that the ESRF is not only an excellent place to carry out science, but it is also an example of international collaboration and cooperation,” he says. “Therefore, we have the duty and responsibility to share our passion for science and technology with the widest possible community, to contribute to the advancement of knowledge across borders, and to inspire the new generations to perpetuate the ESRF’s legacy for many years to come.”

Indeed, the wheels perpetuating this legacy are already in motion. The spirit of international cooperation and exchange is evident in SESAME synchrotron in the Middle East, which will enter commissioning this year, and at the ESRF-hosted conference in November 2015 to build a roadmap towards the first African Light Source. It demonstrates now more than ever that science is an inescapable driver to peaceful relations among cultures and nations, a force for sustainability and a necessity in confronting the major challenges facing our world today.

[1] PDB
[2] (
[3] Einfeld D., Schaper J., Plesko M., A lattice design to reach the theoretical minimum emittance for a storage ring, Proceedings EPAC 1996, Sitges 1996.
[4] Farvacque L., et al., A low emittance lattice for the ESRF, International Particle Accelerator Conference, Shanghai, China (2013).

Anya Joly is the Operation Assistant in the Accelerator & Source Division of the ESRF and in charge of Communication and Documentation for the ESRF - EBS.