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ESRF user awarded ERC advanced grant


François Renard, long-term ESRF user, has been awarded an advanced grant from the European Research Council to study the origins and precursors of earthquakes. This ground-breaking research project is strongly based on the use of the Extremely Brilliant Source.

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François Renard, a geophysicist at the University of Oslo in Norway and the University Grenoble Alpes in France, will undertake the “Break-Through Rocks” (BREAK) project using a bespoke rock-deformation apparatus in combination with 4D X-ray microtomography and acoustic emission on the EBS flagship beamline, BM18, as well as measurements at the ID19 and ID11 beamlines.

Earthquakes pose big threats to humans living and working near fault zones. Just a decade ago, a magnitude 9 quake off the coast of Tōhoku in Japan generated a huge tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people and caused hundreds of billions of dollars of damage. Despite much research, however, the time and location of earthquakes is impossible to predict with any accuracy, and big questions remain about their development. For instance, does water weaken or strengthen a fault? How does rock damage propagate? What is the strain at the tip of a rupture?

Renard, who has published 25 articles on data acquired at the ESRF beamline ID19 in the past 5 years, hopes to answer these questions with a suite of – literally – ground-breaking experiments. At BM18 – the ESRF’s new flagship beamline for microtomography that fully exploits the high energy X-rays of the new EBS source – he and his colleague Benoît Cordonnier will install a rock-deformation apparatus, ZEUS, to study the mechanisms that control the transition from slow, aseismic slip to rapid seismic rupture in rock samples. “This beamline will provide new capabilities by providing the world’s largest high-energy and high-coherence synchrotron beam for hierarchical imaging and high throughput tomography,” he says. The BM18 data will be complemented with ultrafast imaging of shock waves in water-saturated rocks taken at ID19, and X-ray diffraction to deduce strain patterns at ID11. “The ESRF has the world-leading capabilities needed to perform the experimental programme,” Renard adds.

The goal of all the work is to unearth weak signals that precede dynamic rupture, and determine the time between such signals and rupture. “If we can demonstrate that the joint analysis of acoustic-emission signals and X-ray microtomography data can be used to predict dynamic rupture in our experiments, we will have discovered an important lead towards earthquake prediction” says Renard.

 “The award of this grant is a clear indication of the potential of the ESRF-EBS for breakthrough research of the highest impact enabled by the provision of synchrotron X-rays beams with unprecedented brilliance and coherence. The success of the EBS project will be measured by its success to inspire leading scientists such as Francois Renard to push the frontiers of science with the tools we provide.” adds Harald Reichert, ESRF Director of Research.

Top image: François Renard.