The final countdown #ESRFNews


The ESRF directors of research Harald Reichert and Jean Susini answer common user questions about the EBS launch in the latest issue of the ESRFnews magazine.

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When will the world’s first high-energy, fourth-generation light source be up and running?

The launch will be a three-step process. The first step is expected to commence on 2 December, shortly after this issue goes to press, when the first electrons will be injected into the new EBS storage ring.
Our colleagues in the Accelerator Division will then spend three months commissioning the ring, so that beamline commissioning can begin on 2 March next year, including some limited operation with long-term, “friendly” ESRF users. Finally, normal user operation will resume almost six months later, after the summer shutdown, on 25 August.

Will all the beamlines be restarted?

Hopefully all of them, including the collaborating-research-group (CRG) beamlines, along with all the support labs. Since the beginning of the EBS upgrade project, the overall strategy has been to restart the maximum number of beamlines. The only beamlines not restarting immediately are the ones that are in shutdown for a major upgrade (ID03 and ID29, which will become the EBSL2 and EBSL8 flagship beamlines) or refurbishment (ID27, ID24 and BM23). The restart of beamline operation is by itself a very complex process involving almost everyone at the ESRF. If any beamlines should have problems, these will be addressed during the beamline  commissioning period from March to July next year, prioritised by management according to the availability of resources.

What about bending-magnet (BM) beamlines?

Indeed, these won’t have a source when the commissioning of the other, insertion-device beamlines starts in March. Those that requested a twopole wiggler source, which constitute about half of all the BM beamlines, will start commissioning after the first shutdown at the end of April, when these sources are being installed. The remaining BM beamlines, which requested a single-bend source, will begin commissioning in June after the second shutdown.


Will all the beamlines actually be able to cope with the new source?
It’s worth remembering that the installation of the EBS is the second phase of an upgrade programme that began back in 2009. About two-thirds of the ESRF public beamlines were already upgraded in phase 1 with the EBS in mind. Among the others, some are in the process of refurbishment, some require modification of their optics, and some will be able to cope with the new source until future upgrades are completed. A major part of the activities during the shutdown is the installation of a new generation of high-performance 2D detectors on the scattering/diffraction beamlines. There is, however, another big change that will help the beamlines to get the most out of the EBS: their control systems.

What does that mean in practice?

Many users will be familiar with the ESRF’s existing beamline control system, SPEC, which has been in place for decades. The new control system, BLISS, will have many new advanced features, such as continuous complex scans, but entails a learning curve for ESRF staff and users alike. Think of it like a major upgrade in your laptop’s operating system, with a different layout and a slightly different syntax. If you are a user who has written your own data-acquisition protocols for SPEC in the past, these will have to be individually ported to BLISS, as they are beamline specific. This process might take some time: there are hundreds if not thousands of them in total. To begin with, however, only about half of the beamlines will be running BLISS; the rest will be upgraded later, gradually.

Is the control system integrated with the new data policy?

Yes. But certain essential features of the new data policy, such as the metadata catalogue and the electronic log book, will be implemented on as many beamlines as possible, regardless of whether they have been upgraded to BLISS, by the official launch of normal user operation in August. The exceptions are the CRG beamlines, for which these features will come later. Data management is a challenge for all big scientific infrastructures. In the ESRF’s case, a combination of increased brightness and flux, and faster detectors, means that the data volume will strongly increase. In the ESRF strategy, data management has been identified as one of the most crucial issues to be dealt with in the future. It will take time to work out the best ways to manage, transfer, store and process data.

Will we see a change in the number and duration of experiments? And can we submit long-term proposals?

We know from phase 1 of the upgrade that optimised experiments are generally much shorter. Therefore, we are expecting shorter experiments and more of them, which pose some challenges for the operation budget of the ESRF and the increasing number of users travelling to the facility. In parallel, therefore, we are exploring new access models, such as mail-in or remote access in areas beyond structural biology.
Regarding long-term proposals – yes please! The deadline is 2 March 2020. When submitting proposals for the ESRF–EBS, we challenge our users to explore what is possible with a source that is 100 times brighter and 100 times more coherent. Think what you could study now that you could not study before.

Is the ESRF management excited yet?

Actually, we were already excited two years before the shutdown, because that was when we did all
the planning, including making the best of the long shutdown. Once the EBS is up and running, we will see whether everything we set in motion actually works. Naturally, there will be problems – but the challenge then is solving them. What excites us most is the science to come from our users.


Text by Jon Cartwright.


Do you want to read more articles of the latest ESRFnews? Find the whole magazine here:

Top image: Harald Reichert (left) and Jean Susini (right), the ESRF Directors of Research. Credits: C. Argoud