Enabling technologies and associated research & development programmes are typically science-driven, but experience shows that new technologies can also enable new science. One of the challenges of the Upgrade Programme is to find a fair balance between the developments driven by new beamlines and the mid- and long-term R&D programmes that will set the stage for the next-generation instrumentation and therefore new scientific programmes. Indeed, the high level of sophistication and integration of synchrotron radiation instrumentation demands new strategies, where every element must be conceived within the global picture of the instrument and its expected performance. The collection of highlights selected this year illustrates this paradigm, where engineering, software and computing technologies are intricately intertwined with scientific applications. Several key developments initiated during the Upgrade Programme Phase I are presented: some focus on applications whilst others on instrumentation developments.

The first article presents a new imaging technique using a 2D detector to obtain phase contrast with edge-illumination. The feasibility of this technique, originally developed for incoherent sources, has been proven for the first time on a partially coherent synchrotron source over a wide energy range. Thanks to a long sample-to-detector working distance, high angular resolution was achieved, translating into detection of very weak density gradients. The second article reminds us that sometimes managing a coherent beam for imaging applications can be tricky. A number of lens-less full-field techniques have been developed with the clear advantage of being fast but requiring a homogeneous incoming wavefront. The so-called near-field ptychography may be seen as a hybrid between ptychography and holography methods but it has the potential to be superior for quantitative imaging at the nanoscale since it takes into account wavefront distortion in the incoming beam.

The third article is a good example of how “old” techniques like topography can contribute to characterisation of new materials such as silicon solar cells. The way the solar cells are manufactured, and in particular the use of aluminium paste for the back contact, induces lattice distortion in the silicon and in this way affects its voltaic efficiency. The relation between distortion and strain in silicon and the voltaic performance of those components has been characterised by coupling Xray topography and nanodiffraction.

Next come two articles that emphasise the importance of instrumentation developments for synchrotron macromolecular crystallography. The first deals with automatic processing of diffraction data, which was initiated in 2010 through work at the ESRF and EMBL, and has been continuously improved ever since. The second article presents a strategy for exploiting radiation damage, recognised as a major issue in macromolecular crystallography experiments at synchrotron sources, to solve 3D structures.

The following two articles highlight two technical developments made by the ESRF. The first examines white beam mirror systems, which were designed and developed to meet the performance required by the new, upgraded beamlines. Based on generic technologies, several systems associating thermal and mechanical stability and high positioning accuracy have been produced. The second introduces a high-frame-rate detector based on the FReLoN design. This detector was developed specifically for kHz-time-resolved energy EXAFS and features a linear image sensor coupled with an electronic shutter.

The final two articles describe the development of tools for interacting with large datasets. Harvesting metadata and the Umbrella portal for authenticating users are both essential building blocks developed through European partnerships between neutron and photon facilities. Together with high-speed detector readout systems, they complement the full data acquisition chain and will allow well-structured data to be accessed remotely, such that particularly large datasets can remain on-site instead of tedious copying to USB disks.

J. Susini and R. Dimper