The European Spallation Source ESS in Lund (Sweden) is a research facility under construction that will produce long pulses of neutron radiation with very high intensity. In contrast to X-rays normally used in materials research, neutrons do not interact with the layer of electrons of the atoms of the materials under investigation. For this reason it enables research into the structure and dynamics of materials at the molecular and atom scale that is not possible with X-rays.
ESS will be the most powerful source of neutrons in the world and as such will offer unique opportunities for cutting-edge research into both applied and basic fields of research. Whether the aim is to probe the molecular composition of the materials of archaeological artefacts or of metal construction parts, analyse biomolecular processes, understand the electronic structure and dynamics of new superconductors, or identify the basic causes of parity violation in elementary particle physics, ESS will make it possible make new discoveries and technological progress in these and other fields of research.
The planning and construction work of the projects were initially carried out by the joint-stock company ESS AB owned by the host states, Sweden and Denmark, with the participation of 17 partner states, including Switzerland. In summer 2015 ESS AB was transformed into a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). Switzerland joined the ESS-ERIC on 13 July 2015 as a founding member.
Construction of the facility began at the beginning of 2014. The costs of construction and operations of ESS until 2026 are expected to amount to some EUR 2.74 billion, of which EUR 1.83 billion will be spent on building (at 2013 prices). Operations are planned to start in 2019 and be in full operation as from 2026 with annual costs of approximately EUR 140 million.
In contrast to the traditional sources of neutrons, the neutrons at ESS are not produced through splitting atoms in a reactor, but through firing metal (Wolfram) with protons (‘spallation'). Both in terms of the new technology and performance data, ESS enters new territory and will become by far the most powerful source of neutrons in the world.
Neutron sources are already in operation in the US, including HFIR (reactor) and SNS (spallation), in Japan with JPARC (spallation), Germany, with e.g. FRM II and BER II (reactors), France with ILL (reactor) as well as Switzerland with SINQ (spallation). Owing to its higher performance by several orders of magnitude, ESS will complement these facilities: the newly accessible research fields accessible through ESS cannot be processed at the existing neutron source facilities.
Switzerland has been involved in the planning of ESS and the construction work from the outset and will continue to take an active part in its operation. With the federal decree of 20 March 2015 on Switzerland's participation in ESS-ERIC, the Federal Assembly approved a total of CHF 130 million until 2026, corresponding to approximately 3.5% of construction and operation costs. Swiss researchers and institutions, such as the PSI and EPFL, have already been prominent in the ESS planning phase and will continue to be actively involved in the future.
Switzerland's involvement in ESS complements the investments in existing neutron source facilities both at the national level (SINQ) and international level (ILL), as a result of which Swiss researchers are ensured the best possible access to such leading research centres. The State Secretariat for Education, research and Innovation (SERI) is responsible for Switzerland's participation in ESS.
As part of Switzerland's participation in ESS, Swiss industrial companies have the possibility to compete in ESS' invitations to tender. For further information, interested companies and institutions should contact ‘Swiss Industry Liaison Office'.