Elisa Borfecchia is ESRF Young Scientist of 2019


On 5th February 2019, Elisa Borfecchia, from the University of Turin in Italy, was awarded the title of Young Scientist 2019 by the ESRF User Organisation for the impressive results on selective catalysis that she obtained with extensive use of X-ray spectroscopy.

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The award was announced during the plenary session of the 29th annual ESRF User Meeting. Elisa Borfecchia then gave a presentation of her most recent work.

Elisa has been a regular user of the ESRF since 2008 when she travelled to Grenoble during her Master’s degree thesis, discovered synchrotron radiation and knew immediately that this was her new path in life.

“I’m incredibly pleased and honoured to receive the Young Scientist Award this year, after a decade of amazing science and good night-shift coffee at the ESRF. I feel very much at home at the ESRF. Thanks to Kirill Lomachenko and all the other team members, I’ve made many friends here and I hope our collaboration will extend very far into the future”, declared Elisa on receiving the award.

web-2019-01-15_BORFECCHIA_YSA-Argoud-36.jpg (Young Scientist Award 2019)

Elisa with Kirill Lomachenko inside the experimental hutch of ID26. ©ESRF/C. Argoud

Regretfully, this great achievement for Elisa arrived just a few days after the sudden and unexpected loss of a very important friend, Professor Carlo Lamberti, who was Elisa's mentor as well as an extremely active scientist and long-standing user at the ESRF. "This award is dedicated to Carlo - I would never have been here today without his constant support, enthusiasm and brilliant advice," added Elisa.

Elisa trained as an experimental physicist before becoming intrigued by radiation-matter interaction and how it can be used to better understand materials at the nanoscale. Her whole career so far has focused on the use of different synchrotron techniques to characterise nanomaterials. She specialised in the use of X-ray spectroscopy to explore local properties and reactivity of metal sites in nanoporous materials for industrial catalysis. Working with heterogeneous catalysts, she became a regular user on the ESRF’s BM23 and ID26 beamlines where she could combine different techniques of absorption and emission spectroscopy.


"Night shift coffee" is an essential ingredient of Elisa's research at the ESRF. ©ESRF/D. Chenevier

After her PhD and a first post-doctoral position in Turin, Elisa worked in Denmark, at Haldor Topsøe, one of Europe’s top chemical companies and a world leader in catalysis. After receiving a Marie Curie fellowship, she moved to Oslo, Norway, to join the catalysis group at the University of Oslo. Today, she is back home in Italy. The tenure-track researcher position that she recently accepted at the University of Turin will enable Elisa to pursue her research with synchrotron techniques at the ESRF.

“The high energy X-rays and the unique capabilities of the ESRF in terms of experiment set-up and sample environment are huge advantages that make the ESRF my first choice for these experiments. What’s more, the multi-disciplinary team here, whose vast range of skills meet all the needs for catalysis and spectroscopy, means that the ESRF offers conditions that I can’t find elsewhere.”

The core of Elisa’s research is focused on catalysis and a better understanding of the nature of the active sites and reaction mechanisms inside commercial catalysts. Her research aims at practical applications for rational catalyst design and to ultimately develop better and more sustainable processes, for example how to convert carbon dioxide in the environment into commodity chemicals that are less polluting for the planet.

“The ESRF environment is extremely stimulating. It’s a great source of learning and progress. I was trained in physics but when designing and performing experiments here I work with chemists and chemical engineers and I had to start from scratch in that field. Their vision of science is different to mine and that helps to make me a better scientist. I also have to work at how to convey my ideas to scientists from different backgrounds and that pulls me upwards.”

About the Young Scientist Award

Each year since 1995, the Young Scientist Award (YSA) is presented to a scientist aged 37 or under in recognition of outstanding work carried out at the ESRF. The ESRF Users Organisation chooses a chairperson for the YSA. The chairperson then forms a selection committee composed of distinguished scientists whose expertise covers the most important areas of synchrotron science. The panel calls for nominations from institutes around the world and evaluates nominees on the basis of the following criteria:

•    Significant and personal contribution to either a novel method or technique, or to the advancement of a particular field based on ESRF measurements
•    Quality and quantity of publications, conference contributions and responsibilities
•    Importance of the specific field for synchrotron science research

Who else has won the ESRF User Organisation Young Scientist Award?

Top image: Elisa Borfecchia from the University of Turin is named as Young Scientist of 2019. ¬©ESRF/C. Argoud