Seeking the secrets of matter and making the invisible visible

The ESRF, the European Synchrotron, is an international research facility supported by 22 countries, based in Grenoble, France. Thanks to high-level, innovative engineering and cutting-edge vision, the ESRF is recognised as a global leader in its field, welcoming more than 9.000 scientists every year, from all over the world, from academia and industry, to study the inner structure of materials and living matter down to the atom.

Thanks to the brilliance and quality of its X-rays, the ESRF functions like a ‘super-microscope’ which ‘films’ the position and motion of atoms in condensed and living matter, and reveals the structure of matter in all its beauty and complexity. It provides unrivalled opportunities for scientists in the exploration of materials and living matter in many fields: chemistry, material physics, archaeology and cultural heritage, structural biology and medical applications, environmental sciences, information science and nanotechnologies.

The ESRF produces X-rays 100 billion times brighter than the X-rays used in hospitals. These X-rays, endowed with exceptional properties, are produced by the high energy electrons that race around the storage ring, a circular tunnel measuring 844 metres in circumference. Each year, the demand to use these X-ray beams increases and thousands of scientists from around the world come to Grenoble, to conduct experiments at the 44 ‘beamlines’, each equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation, and managed by highly qualified scientific and technical experts.

Pioneering synchrotron science

“Audacity and innovation underpin the history of the ESRF. With the construction of a brand-new storage ring, together with the most advanced portfolio of new beamlines, EBS will enable scientists to bring X-ray science into research domains and applications that could not have been imagined a few years ago,” said Francesco Sette.

In 1988, the ESRF made history as the world’s first third-generation synchrotron light source. In its lifetime, the scientific output from ESRF instruments has totalled over 32,000 scientific publications, and it has generated four Nobel Prize laureates.

Following on from more than 26 years of success and excellence, the ESRF has embarked upon an innovative project, the EBS – Extremely Brilliant Source – project, highlighted as an ESFRI landmark. The EBS project represents an investment of 150 million Euros over the period 2015-2022. The principal aim of this project is to construct, inside the existing infrastructure, the first of a new generation of synchrotron, fully conceived and designed by ESRF accelerator scientists and engineers. With performances multiplied by 100 in terms of brilliance and coherence, EBS will lead the way in pushing back the boundaries of scientific exploration of matter, and contribute to answering the great technological, economic, societal and environmental challenges confronting our society. The EBS project includes also a new state-of-the-art beamline portfolio, an ambitious scientific instrumentation programme, and a ‘data as a service’ strategy to exploit the high performances of this new X-ray source.

The new EBS beamlines will make it possible to probe complex materials at the atomic level in greater detail, with higher quality, and much faster. These new beamlines will help scientists to address major challenges facing our society, including the development of the next generation of drugs, biomaterials and sustainable materials, and to provide deep insights into the complex mechanisms governing living organisms. They will help elucidate our recent and ancient past, as manifested in historical artefacts and fossils. What’s more, they will provide unique opportunities for applied and innovation-driven research.

Aerial view of the ESRF Aerial view of the ESRF Aerial view of the ESRF Aerial view of the ESRF

The ESRF is not only a landmark for science, it is a local landmark too in the "city of the Alps". With a circumference of 844 m, the storage ring is also visible from the three surrounding mountain ranges: the Belledonne, Chartreuse and Vercors. Images credit: ESRF/D. MOREL.

A unique worldwide research facility, a centre of excellence

  • 9 000 scientists from around the world visit the ESRF every year to conduct experiments in a very wide variety of fields, ranging from chemistry and physics of materials to archaeology and cultural heritage, as well as structural biology and medical applications, environmental science, information technology and nanotechnologies.
  • 4 Nobel prize-winners among the ESRF users
  • A record number of publications
    • More than 32,000 refereed articles
    • Nearly 2,000 publications per year, equivalent to around 5 every day
  • 30% of the public research involves industrial participation


ESRF key dates

  • 1975: Idea for a European third-generation synchrotron source
  • 1988: Signing of the agreement among the governments of 12 Member States
  • 1992: First electron beam in the storage ring
  • 1994: Inauguration. User operations began with 15 beamlines
  • 1998: Forty beamlines in operation
  • 2009: Start of the ESRF Upgrade Programme
  • 2012: New design for the storage ring
  • 2015: Start of Phase II of the Upgrade Programme with ESRF-EBS, the Extremely Brilliant Source
  • 2018: The ESRF celebrated its 30th anniversary. The ESRF’s X-ray source was shut down for a 20-month upgrade to the new Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS).
  • 2020: The Extremely Brilliant source will be opened to users


22 partners: a model of international cooperation

13 Member States

  • 27.5% France
  • 24% Germany
  • 13.2% Italy
  • 10.5% United Kingdom
  • 6% Russia
  • 5.8% Benesync (Belgium, The Netherlands)
  • 5% Nordsync (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden)
  • 4% Spain
  • 4% Switzerland


9 Associate countries

  • 1.75% Austria
  • 1.75% Israel
  • 1.05% Centralsync (Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia)
  • 1% Poland
  • 1% Portugal
  • 0.66% India
  • 0.3% South Africa