7December 2021 ESRFnews
The idea of the new access modes is to get more experiments done in the time available, to distribute our resources more effectively and to optimise the scientific impact of the ESRF EBS
The ESRF is piloting three new modes of accessing its beamlines, to boost the numbers of experiments, promote collaborative behaviour and fast-track the most promising and societally important research. Currently, there are three ways
of accessing ESRF beamlines. The standard route for individual scientists or groups is to apply directly to use one or more beamlines during a single six-month scheduling period. A second option is to submit long-term proposals, which allocate access to one or, sometimes, a few beamlines for up to three years. Finally, there is the possibility of users forming a block- allocation group (BAG). A primary route for structural biologists, BAGs comprise principal investigators (PIs) from different groups sharing a nationality or research interest, who apply together for regular beam time on the understanding that they distribute access among themselves. Besides that for structural biology
beamlines, at least 80% of access comes from standard proposals. According to Harald Reichert, ESRF director of research, however, these are not as efficient as they could be. Due to the length of time it takes to administrate access, he says, users who want to apply to perform a follow-up experiment often miss the proposal deadline for the next scheduling period, and have to wait several months to continue their research. Moreover, he explains, beamlines have to be reconfigured for each different experiment. The idea of the new access modes is to get more experiments done in the time available, to distribute our resources more effectively and to optimise the scientific impact of the ESRF EBS. Developed as part of STREAMLINE
a Horizon 2020 project to improve ESRF EBS user operation the new modes are variants of the existing BAG system. First is a technique-driven BAG, in which a group of PIs using the same technique in a particular field apply for an initial two-year block of beam time and distribute it internally. This is being piloted for shock physics, which has a community in Europe of at least 20 PIs, all of whom require the configuration of gas guns, lasers and other shock-driving equipment at beamline ID19. As experts in their field, these PIs are best placed to determine which experiments and which allocation of beam time will
New access modes piloted
advance their science the fastest, says Reichert. They can also make sure that experiments requiring the same equipment proceed back-to-back. Meanwhile, a new science-driven
BAG is similar to the technique-driven BAG, except that it groups PIs based on the exact scientific problem they are addressing. Here the pilot case is the science of historic painting degradation, which requires a range of techniques available at beamlines such as ID13, ID21 and ID22. Two test runs this year on ID13 and ID22 resulted in data from 139 samples in the time, previously, it would have been possible to perform maybe two experiments, says Reichert. The third and final new access
mode is a hub in effect a science- driven BAG, but a bigger one that is specifically geared to problems of high societal importance. The first pilot hub is focusing on battery research, based on an initial partnership with the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the Institut Laue-Langevin. The trouble currently is that the different beamtime-allocation panels do not know what is being submitted to one another; there is no entity overseeing allocation on a more global scale, says Reichert. Now, if CEA battery scientists have an overarching goal to further battery technology that requires input from a large number of beamlines, they will be able to pursue it with confidence, without having to face the possibility that a proposal to one particular beamline will not be granted and undermine the whole project. The new hub is expected to ramp up quickly and open to other partners. See esrf.fr/CommunityAccess
Users return to site
ESRF users have been enjoying a return to performing experiments on site after maximum attendances per session were fully derestricted in August.
To face the constraints linked to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and especially the lockdowns, the ESRF implemented new solutions to perform experiments remotely where possible. This year, in line with French government recommendations, the ESRF has gradually eased the constraints, and finally lifted all limitations relating to on-site attendance for run 4 on 24 August.
David Wragg from the University of Oslo in Norway was among the first users back on site. An ESRF user of more than 15 years, Wragg and his postdoc Anders Brennhagen study ways to improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries. They recently came to the synchrotron to perform experiments at the ID15A beamline, despite the challenges of the 1700 km trip. Because of the COVID situation and the problem with flying, and the fact that it s very difficult to take experimental lithium-ion batteries on planes, we had to travel over land the entire way, says Wragg. It was an epic two-day journey.
The goal of Wragg s group is to understand the behaviour of silicon anodes. These can deliver up to 10 times more charge than current commercial anodes made of graphite, but do not cycle well, meaning that the battery fails after just a few recharges. We re really trying to understand that chemistry at the atomic scale, and potentially improve the performance, says Wragg. With the EBS, we can get much more detailed information about the fast processing going on when we charge and discharge batteries.
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The science of historic painting degredation at beamlines such as ID21 (above) is the focus of a science-driven BAG pilot.