The success of the ESRF’s scientific programme is the result of the ideas and actions of many people - our large and widely-spread user community (some 5500 scientists visited the ESRF in 2006 to carry out their research projects), the many colleagues who contribute to the ESRF through their work on the proposal review committees as well as the Council, SAC and AFC, and almost 600 staff of the ESRF. Science at the ESRF is underpinned by the work of all of our Divisions and Services: much of this is invisible to our scientific user community but is, nevertheless, of crucial importance for the successful operation of our Machine and beamlines. We open this Introduction to the Highlights 2006 with some important news and events that marked 2006 for our various Divisions.

The Machine, the set of accelerators providing the X-ray beams, operated very successfully in 2006. X-ray beam availability was 98.7% (97.6% in 2005) and the mean time between failures reached a new record of 61.5 hours (44.4 hours in 2005). A new magnetic lattice was developed and tested during the year. This lattice has an effectively unchanged performance and is operated without two quadrupoles in each cell; these may subsequently be removed to provide more space (~ 1 metre) for new insertion devices. Routine upgrades and maintenance continued with, for example, the installation of new high power crotch absorbers and front-ends and several new “revolver” and in-vacuum undulators.

Where the Experiments Division is concerned, progress has been achieved in many areas of materials science and in the development of techniques. The high pressure programme has seen the commissioning of ID27, a new high pressure beamline, with much improved performance (flux and focussing capabilities) compared to that of ID30 (now phased-out). The experimental programme of this new beamline has already achieved very significant results such as the first crystallographic data on phase III of solid hydrogen and the discovery of carbonia, a carbon dioxide based glass with a structure similar to vitreous silica. Plans to develop a large volume press programme are progressing well. The year 2006 has also witnessed the commissioning of two other key beamlines: ID03, the new surface diffraction beamline which has been equipped with an instrument dedicated to the investigation of surfaces under “real” catalytic conditions, and ID26, for high-throughput resonant inelastic X-ray scattering, allowing a powerful and ambitious experimental programme in both inorganic chemistry and bioscience. A novel technique,

X-ray-detected magnetic resonance, has been successfully demonstrated on ID12, opening a new avenue by which to study very subtle magnetic processes, such as site-selective time-resolved magnetism down to the picosecond timescale, using X-ray magnetic dichroism techniques in combination with microwave pumping of the sample under investigation. Finally, the new ID06, ID11 and ID13 projects are on schedule to start delivering beam in 2007, thereby increasing the opportunities at the ESRF in the fields of micro- and nano-diffraction in materials science, pulsed magnetic fields up to about 30 T, and instrument developments using high brightness undulator radiation.

The automation of the ESRF macromolecular crystallography (MX) beamlines continues to be of real benefit to the large European structural biology community: MX makes up around 40% of the user visits to the ESRF. Fast screening of a large number of crystals is now possible. This is of great value for biologically challenging projects where it is often difficult to get good quality (diffracting) crystals. Many biological projects also profit from the implementation of techniques complementary to X-ray diffraction such as Raman and UV-VIS spectroscopy, now available on the MX beamlines. A noteworthy and valuable cross-fertilisation between structural biology and soft condensed matter science is growing, of mutual benefit to both research areas. By the use of the coherence in holotomographic mapping, and nano-chemical imaging of the cellular distribution of heavy metals, X-ray imaging has demonstrated its great potential in providing completely new knowledge on biological samples. These X-ray imaging techniques are attracting new user communities. For example, the non-destructive nature of X-ray imaging gives unique opportunities to “see” inside fossils and to unravel the chemical composition of cultural heritage samples. The use of nanometre-sized X-ray beams has been the foundation for many of the exciting results obtained in 2006, and the need for smaller and smaller X-ray beams is increasing and is an important component of the ESRF upgrade programme. Three pilot projects are preparing the ground for the future developments of beamlines with nanosized beams: the nanoimaging side-station at ID22, and the extension projects of ID11, the materials science beamline and ID13, the microfocus beamline, enabling ID11 and ID13 to operate routinely with nanometre-sized beams. However, nanobeams require developments in nanoengineering and nanomanipulation and so a nanotechnology platform has been established to coordinate all the nanoscale developments.

The year 2006 was a remarkable year for computing-related activities. The beamlines again produced a record amount of data, pushing much of the computing infrastructure to its limits and encouraging the Computing Services Division to explore new technologies and techniques. The data network is being constantly enhanced to maintain its high reliability while substantially increasing the available bandwidth. Many experiments now require parallel processing for fast analysis and many users are routinely using the Linux clusters with batch submission software to stay abreast of the data deluge. Other developments concern new database applications and the continuous development of the control system software, two areas where collaborative efforts with other laboratories allow synergy.

Staff of the Technical Services Division contribute to science at the ESRF in many ways, from conventional building construction and maintenance to very specific infrastructure for the Machine and beamlines. For example, in 2006 TSD delivered Sectors 10-6 and 14-5 to accommodate the new long (about 100 m) beamlines ID11 and ID13 which have remarkable vibrational and thermal stability.

The Administration Division, working closely with the Director General, has very wide responsibilities, including interaction with the ESRF’s partner countries. In 2006, the first steps were taken towards the possible participation of Russia in the ESRF. In addition, the Central European countries are demonstrating an increased interest. In line with the intensified use of the ESRF by scientists from Poland and the Czech Republic, these countries increased their contributions as Scientific Associates to 1% (Poland) and 0.47% (Czech Republic). Contacts with the Slovak Republic have been initiated. Technology transfer is increasingly important for Europe’s science-based industries. The rules on the remuneration of inventors were modified last year to give a boost to technology transfer at the ESRF. The Convention d’Entreprise governs our working environment and is currently under revision in negotiation with the Unions. These discussions, which focus on shiftwork, time management, and the expatriation allowance, will continue well into 2007.



The Director General with the members of the Upgrade Programme Project Group. From left to right: C. Detlefs, J.L. Revol, W.G. Stirling, T. Bouvet and E. Mitchell.

Following the enthusiastic support of the SAC and Council for the ESRF’s ten year Upgrade Programme (, the Director General set up a Project Group to prepare the detailed project documentation to be submitted to the Council for approval (see the photo). This major task is well underway with the aim of producing the “Purple Book” by early 2007, after in-depth consultation with SAC members and representatives of the user community. We are looking forward to a “green light” in 2007 from the ESRF Council to start work on our programme of renewal and upgrade, designed to keep the ESRF at the forefront of scientific research.

The Highlights 2006 presents some of the best science from the ESRF over the last year. We hope that you enjoy reading about some of the remarkable research carried out by our users and staff. In 2007 and the following years we will work together to make the ESRF an even more exciting centre for world science.


W.G. Stirling, M. Rodriguez Castellano, P. Elleaume, R. Dimper, H. Krech, S. Larsen, F. Sette, P. Thiry
(January 2007)