The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) is an outstanding example of European scientific cooperation. 21 countries participate in the financing and operation of this X-ray radiation facility, which is one of the most powerful in the world. With the recently commissioned new "Extremely Brilliant Source", the first fourth-generation high-energy synchrotron, the ESRF is expanding its unique capabilities for research into biomolecules, nanomaterials, active catalysts, fossils or valuable cultural assets. It is indispensable for structural analyses in solid-state physics, molecular biology, materials science, diagnosis and therapy in medicine, as well as for special experiments in radiobiology, fundamental physics and physical chemistry.
The ESRF has established itself, as a unique synchrotron source in the world because it enables experiments and analyses that cannot be carried out elsewhere. For this reason, about 7000 scientists come to the ESRF every year to carry out their measurements. For example, processes for growing high-quality crystals were studied or quality assurance was carried out on alloys and ceramic materials. Other application-related projects were the tracking of battery performance over time, studies on material ageing in buildings and the measurement of environmental pollution by heavy metals.
Members of the organisation are Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Spain and the consortia BENESYNC (Belgium and the Netherlands) and NORDSYNC (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden). Scientific collaboration agreements exist with Portugal, Israel, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and India. The operation of the ESRF costs the Members and Associates just over 100 million euros per year. Over 600 employees ensure the operation of the ESRF.
Since 1998, the facility had been fully operational with 30 beamlines and was characterised by very high availability and stability of its X-rays; it operated around the clock and supplied researchers with 5500 hours of beam time annually. After a reconstruction phase of only 20 months and an investment of 150 million euros, the new "Extremely Brilliant Source" ESRF-EBS has provided the research community with the world's most powerful infrastructure of its kind since August 2020.
ESRF-EBS, the first fourth-generation high-energy synchrotron
After the successful implementation of an upgrade programme to completely renew the beamline park (including instrumentation and data acquisition) from 2008 to 2015, the ambitious project of an ESRF-EBS was launched. The old electron storage ring was removed and replaced by a new machine that will produce the brightest, most coherent and smallest X-rays ever produced by a synchrotron facility. Sensitivity and dynamics of nanoscale imaging allow even macromolecular processes and chemical reactions to be filmed. The ESRF-EBS has also already provided key information on the effect of Covid-19 on the human lung. Thanks to staying within budget and on schedule, the ESRF-EBS was funded without increasing membership fees, thanks in part to Russia joining the ESRF in 2014.
Swiss researchers from over 20 institutes and centres use the ESRF beamlines for their respective studies and experiments. Since the beam time is allocated competitively based on the scientific excellence of the applications and since Swiss researchers have one of the highest success rates, the average use of the facility by Switzerland was for many years above the value to which it was actually entitled according to the contribution share. This has fallen slightly since 2008, as Swiss researchers are increasingly using the Swiss Light Source SLS at the PSI.
At the ESRF, researchers from Switzerland have joined forces with Norwegian researchers and have been operating two beamlines of their own, the Swiss-Norwegian Beamlines SNBL, since 1994. Since the beginning of 2021, these have been financed by the Norwegian University of Technology NTNU in Trondheim, EPFL, ETHZ and the University of Geneva.
Switzerland contributes 4% of the ESRF's annual budget, which corresponds to an amount of around CHF 5 million. The SERI is responsible for Switzerland's participation in the ESRF. Swiss industry was able to supply several high-tech components and systems to Grenoble during the construction of the facilities, and the operating and maintenance work involved brings Swiss industry substantial orders. 11.3% of the ESRF contracts go to Swiss companies (average over three years), while Switzerland holds only 4% of the shares in the ESRF. Switzerland is thus the ESRF Member with the highest industrial return, thanks in particular to the excellence of Swiss companies active in X-ray detection. The "Swiss ILO Office" is responsible for supporting relations between Swiss companies and the ESRF.