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Community access to beamtime for cultural heritage experiments


A block allocation group (BAG) for structural investigations of historical materials, a pilot project for new access modes to the ESRF, has just started at the ESRF-EBS, with the aim to facilitate the cultural heritage community’s access to beamtime.

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From studying pigments in Picasso’s artwork to analyzing the degradation of the world's oldest known animal cave painting in Indonesia or in Italian terracotta statues, a recent experimental session at the ESRF covered many different subjects of research in just 4 days (12 shifts) and with 14 different end users.

This was the second run of a new access mode at the ESRF that allows the cultural heritage community to get group access to beamtime on a regular basis, meaning that several experiments can take place in a single session. “We were many teams in Europe with the same research interests and we were most of the time competing for beamtime. We decided to come together to collaborate, as we use the same techniques, so we’ve built an entire network of European teams that can share an easy access to the capacities of the new Extremely Brilliant Source”, explains Victor Gonzalez, scientist at the École normale supérieur Paris-Saclay.

What enabled this new access was the European Commission Horizon 2020-funded STREAMLINE project, as explains Marine Cotte, scientist at the ESRF and involved in the grant: “We are very lucky to have received this grant to develop and improve our working model and the BAG for cultural heritage users is a very successful outcome from it”.

Within a BAG, many short proposals from different groups are combined into a single proposal, in which the same analytical technique is required. All partners share the experimental time granted in a flexible way. This type of BAG experiment scheme has been used by the structural biology community since many years.

All the projects in this BAG need structural information obtainable by X-ray powder diffraction at the ESRF, either through high-angular resolution XRD at ID22 or high-spatial resolution 2D µXRD imaging at ID13.

One of the keys for the success of these sessions is the preparation of the samples. Ida Fazlic, PhD student in cultural heritage at the ESRF, has been optimising the sample set-up: “We have developed a way of setting up 30 samples in one go, which makes us save lots of time. As an example, in the last experimental session we studied 186 samples in 4 days!”

“On top of the gain in the optimization of sample mounting, data acquisition and data processing, the BAG system has demonstrated all its benefits in creating and training (via hands-on and tutorials on software) a network of new young people using synchrotron for cultural heritage”, concludes Marine Cotte.

“Even at this early stage, the extremely efficient use of beamtime and the high level of collaboration between the involved have already exceeded our already high expectations and we hope to get the green light to offer these new access mode to other communities in the near future”, says Harald Reichert, Director of Research and project coordinator for STREAMLINE.   

Top image: The Rijksmuseum. Credits: Erik Smits.