A Passion for Science


International students arrive at the ESRF for four weeks of hands-on science and discovery as part of the 2nd edition of the joint ESRF/ILL International Student Summer Programme on X-ray and Neutron Science.

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The ESRF/ILL International Student Summer Programme is helping students to take one step nearer to their dreams. Viktor Radermacher has blisters on his hands but a huge smile on his face. The blisters are from carrying the 8kg case containing a precious dinosaur fossil all the way from South Africa, the smile because it’s the first time away from his home country and he’s living the dream that has inhabited him since the age of 2. He is, at last, working with dinosaurs. In fact, he is using the most advanced techniques available to palaeontologists today to scan fossils using the ESRF’s ultra bright X-rays. 

Viktor is one of the 20 students selected for the joint ESRF/ILL International Student Summer Programme on X-ray and Neutron Science which runs from 29 August until 23 September on the EPN campus in Grenoble. The 4-week experimental project offers students a practical and theoretical introduction to working on large research instruments, as well as a social programme to discover the local culture and environment.

The 20 successful students were picked from more than 170 candidates and come from 10 different countries: Russia, Norway, Israel, Hungary, the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark and South Africa.

For most, they are in the final stages of Bachelor of Science degrees in either Oslo, Goettingen, London, Jerusalem, Budapest, Rome, Moscow or Johannesburg. They have chosen to spend the last weeks of the summer in Grenoble to gain exceptional and unique insight into working with the best that technology has to offer in the world of research. Their individual projects may have unpronounceable and enigmatic titles, but their mention brings their authors to life with enthusiasm for their research. And, as well-trained and talented wannabe scientists, they know the importance of making their science understood by all.


Credit: ESRF/K. Colvin

Tomer Cohen is working with Martha Brennich from the ESRF on beamline BM29. He is studying radiation damage to proteins in SAXS measurements.

I’m hoping to see that by changing some parameters we can reduce radiation damage on the samples, for example, by using a capillary tube with smaller dimensions.”









Tomer is a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and, unlike the other students on the programme, he has already used the ESRF for experiments during his studies at the protein crystallography lab of the university. “It’s the fifth time for me in Grenoble, but it’s always exciting to come back.”

Viktor Radermacher (right), with ESRF palaeontologist Vincent Fernandez, positioning the fossil of Nqwebasaurus before performing scans on the ESRF's BM05 beamline.

“All the hard work and sacrifices have paid off. I’m at the ESRF scanning dinosaur bones. I’m exactly where I want to be.”


Credit: ESRF/C. Argoud.









Viktor was impressed by the size of the ESRF and the high-tech equipment, “I’m amazed by the ESRF and by the kinds of minds that put this place together. It makes me proud to be a homo sapiens and that my species produced this.

In January 2017, Viktor will start post-graduate studies in Palaeontology, working under the direction of Professor Jonah Choiniere and on the skeleton of heterodontosaurus "Tucki". Professor Choiniere made ESRF headlines in August 2016 when he led a team of scientists from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, to scan, for the very first time, the most complete skeleton of this small dinosaur ever-found (read the story).


Credit: ESRF/C. Argoud

Eleonora Polini is 21, Italian and has just finished the 2nd year of a Bachelors in physics at the University of La Sapienza in Rome. “I’ve always loved science and maths and have always wanted to understand why the world is the way it is.  I’d love to discover something amazing about the universe, the big bang or the future of our universe.

Perhaps that’s why Eleonora chose to carry out an experiment on the ESRF’s high pressure beamline, ID27, for the practical part of the Summer Programme. Here it’s possible to recreate the extreme conditions that reign at the centre of the Earth and in the exoplanets.

Before starting high school, Eleonora read Stephen Hawking’s book, “The Theory of Everything”, and realised that the science she was passionate about had a name: particle physics. “I’d always been sure that physics was my subject but there are so many branches, I didn’t know which one to choose.

Eleonora is studying the behaviour of MAPbI3, a hybrid perovskite, using X-ray diffraction under conditions of high pressure. This compound is a potential alternative for photo-voltaic panels. It is cheaper to manufacture than current materials and converts energy more efficiently.

The first part of the experiment consisted in preparing the samples to be studied and setting them up inside the three diamond anvil cells. This process in itself can take more than half a day to accomplish. Eleonora was lucky to have a full week of experimental time before starting the summer school. “That week I worked from 9 in the morning to 8 in the evening every day and then I only left because I would’ve missed dinner! It’s exciting working so close to the synchrotron. It’s something I’ve studied in a lot of detail but it’s the first time I’ve been able to visit one.

For Eleonora, one of the main attractions of the student programme is the fruitful and diverse exchanges with the other students and people working at the ESRF. “This course has been a great source of networking and I’ve had some really rich exchanges. We all come from different universities and have different cultures, languages and ideas, plus the people at the ESRF are giving me loads of information to help my future choices.


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Lara Bartels, 22, University of Göttingen, Germany. At the ESRF she is conducting Monte Carlo simulations of dose deposition for microbeams, an emerging technique used in radiation therapy to improve cancer treatment. It’s her first experience of working abroad “and definitely not my last!”.

All photos in block: ESRF/C. Argoud.

Irina Safiulina, 23, Saint Petersburg State University, Russian Federation. At the ESRF she is studying monogermanides of transition metals using X-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD). It’s the first time she has used this method of investigation to study the structure of matter. “XMCD is a powerful method used to measure magnetic properties in material. I most enjoy analysing the pictures that result from the experiments.

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Anastasia Ragulskaya, 21, Moscow State University. At the ESRF she is studying phonon vibrations in perovskites on ID28. It’s the first time studying abroad for Anastasia.

It’s an incredible experience being here, and even if it’s difficult to go abroad, I’d encourage other students to try. In fact, I think the more difficult it is to get away, then the more interesting the experience turns out to be!”

Pablo Martinez, 19, Universidad de Valencia, Spain. He is using the ESRF’s high energy beamline, ID31, to study the changes in biomass composition and phases during and after pyrolysis using X-ray diffraction.

Our future depends on renewable energies, including biomass. Having a good understanding of how biomass behaves during breakdown may be determining for our future.

Discover the whole programme of the 2016 International Student Summer Programme. Infomation on the 2017 edition will be published on the ESRF website in February 2017.

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Participants and organisers of the 2016 ESRF/ILL International Student Summer Programme. Credit: ILL/S.Claisse

Students during a hike in the Vercors mountains that dominate Grenoble from the west. Credit: ESRF/P. Bruno

Text by Kirstin Colvin

Top image: Students and organisers of the Summer Programme. Credit: ILL/S. Claisse.