After more than 10 years of successful operation of the facility for scientific Users, the year 2006 saw the full complement of 31 public beamlines, together with 11 additional beamlines operated by Collaborating Research Groups (CRGs) available for experiments by visiting research teams. Figure 158 shows the increase in the number of applications for beamtime since 1999, and confirms that although the main beamline construction effort was complete by 1999, the number of applications for beamtime continues to increase steadily.

Fig. 158: Numbers of applications for beamtime, experimental sessions and user visits, 1999 to 2006. N.B. Final numbers of experiments and user visits for 2006 were not available at the time of going to press.

Proposals for experiments are selected and beamtime allocations are made through peer review. Review Committees of specialists for the most part from European countries and Israel, have been set up in the following scientific areas:

• chemistry

• hard condensed matter: electronic and magnetic properties

• hard condensed matter: crystals and ordered systems

• hard condensed matter: disordered systems and liquids

• applied materials and engineering

• environmental and cultural heritage matters

• macromolecular crystallography

• medicine

• methods and instrumentation

• soft condensed matter

• surfaces and interfaces.

The Review Committees met twice during the year, some six weeks after the deadlines for submission of proposals (1 March and 1 September). They reviewed a record number of 1892 applications for beamtime, and selected 828 (43.8 %), which were then scheduled for experiments.

Features of this period:

• in view of the increasing numbers of proposals received overall, and of emerging areas of research in the areas of the environment and cultural heritage, two new Review Committees were created, viz, a hard condensed matter: disordered systems & liquids Committee, and a Committee in environmental and cultural heritage matters.

• the continued successful operation of the Block Allocation Group (BAG) scheme for macromolecular crystallography users. This scheme, designed to encourage groups of users to block together their multiple requests for beamtime, and the scheduling of their experiments, encompassed 45 groups from Europe and Israel in 2006.

Requests for beamtime, which is scheduled in shifts of 8 hours, totalled 29 923 shifts or 239 384 hours in 2006, of which 13 082 shifts or 104 656 hours (43.7%) were allocated. The distribution of shifts requested and allocated, by scientific area, is shown in Table 9.

Table 9: Number of shifts of beamtime requested and allocated for user experiments, year 2006.

The breakdown of shifts scheduled for experiments by scientific area in the first half of 2006 is shown in Figure 159. This period saw 2978 visits by scientists to the ESRF under the user programme, to carry out 712 experiments. Figure 158 shows the rapid rise in the number of user visits since 1999, the higher numbers in recent years reflecting in part the multiple visits made by macromolecular crystallography BAG teams. The peak in 2000 is due to a somewhat longer scheduling period, and correspondingly higher overall number of experimental sessions, and visits by users.

Fig. 159: Shifts scheduled for experiments, March to July 2006, by scientific area.

Overall, the number of users in each experimental team averaged 4.2 persons, and they stayed for some 4 days. Users responding to questionnaires indicate that they particularly appreciate the assistance they receive from scientists and support staff on beamlines, and smooth administrative arrangements, in addition to the quality both of the beam and of the experimental stations. Facilities on site, such as preparation laboratories, the Guesthouse and a canteen open 7 days a week, also make an important contribution to the quality of user support.