What science is done at the ESRF?

Scientists use the ESRF to explore everything from exotic states of matter to snake fossils to the reason why chocolate sometimes develops a white film when it melts.

Experimental apparatus under high vacuum at ESRF beamline ID08 for the study of magnetism and electronic structures, January 2005 (Credit: ESRF/P. Ginter).There are dozens of highly specialised techniques for using synchrotron X-rays, each with its own strengths and applications. In very general terms, though, the light produced at the ESRF has qualities that make it good for the following kinds of problems, whether for basic research or for industry:

  • Measuring hard-to-detect quantities or properties, e.g. when a structure is very small, a sample is tiny or very dilute, or an effect is faint
  • Observing physically hidden features, e.g. the buried portion of a fossil or the structure of a surface under a coating
  • Stimulating atomic and molecular processes that require a lot of energy, e.g. identifying the chemical state of heavy elements such as chromium or uranium
  • Observing processes that happen very fast, e.g. structural changes in biological proteins.

This is not by any means a comprehensive list! A look at our publication database and science programme documents will give an idea of the disciplines and techniques represented among ESRF users.


Research areas

Examining a protein structure after data collection at the structural biology beamline ID23-1, March 2009 (Credit: ESRF/Molyneux Associates).The following are the research areas into which experiment proposals are categorised:

  • Hard condensed matter science
  • Applied material science
  • Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Soft condensed matter science
  • Life sciences
  • Structural biology
  • Medicine
  • Earth and science
  • Environment
  • Cultural heritage
  • Methods and instrumentation


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