Over the past year, the soft condensed matter (SCM) beamlines have continued to be active across a wide variety of scientific areas, employing an equally diverse range of experimental techniques. These include studying phase transitions and the dynamics of colloidal systems (ID02: USAXS; ID10A: XPCS), probing the growth of organic layers (ID10B: GID & reflectivity) and investigating ancient silk fabrics (ID13: scanning diffraction). The highly interesting science performed at CRG beamlines is also exemplified here by a fundamental study on the inverse melting transition of a solution at BM29.

The trend towards biologically-related science has continued in 2006. This is demonstrated in the study of pressure-driven lyotropic liquid crystalline phases on ID02, an area which is of considerable interest for understanding the fusion of membranes. Also this year, high resolution structural data have been collected from micrometre-sized A-amylose crystals on ID13. This suggests that a number of fibrous biopolymers could become amenable to single crystal techniques.

The increasing interest in micro- and nano-beams is emphasised by the participation of the SCM-group beamlines in the SAXIER FP6 project on “Small-angle scattering at high brilliance European synchrotrons for bio- and nano-technology” (Spokesman: D. Svergun, EMBL-Hamburg). The upgrade of the ID13 beamline by a nanofocus extension hutch is also a timely development (commissioning starting in Jan. 2007).

2006 became a particularly important year for the SCM group because of the development of an ESRF long term strategy. This has provided, through the various beamline upgrade programmes, a unique opportunity to shape the future of SCM at the ESRF. The overall aim is to maintain world-class instrumentation, whilst continuing to provide the best possible support for the ESRF user community in the coming years. Among the different instrumental options proposed are: (i) extended pinhole optics for ID02 allowing accessing the USAXS range (ii) separation of ID10A and ID10B on a common sector by canted undulators and (iii) independently operating micro- and nano-branches by canted undulators for ID13. The SCM group is also proposing a new high-throughput bending magnet SAXS beamline with an emphasis on solution scattering and microfluidics. This would also be invaluable for studying proteins in solution, chemistry and materials. These proposals will be discussed with the relevant ESRF advisory committees and with the user community in particular. It will also be crucial to develop strategies for developing strategic long-range fields of research. These could involve several beamlines in collaboration with external user groups.

C. Riekel