Introduction

Dear ESRF User, dear reader

It is a great pleasure to present to you some of the achievements of 2017 and to share some highlights of ESRF users’ science over the past year. In 2017, the ESRF scientific programme continued to develop as impressively as in previous years: many new records were broken, and new infrastructure and operation features were made available. Great progress has also been made on the ongoing EBS programme and on beamline upgrades. Last September, the ESRF reached the milestone of 30 000 publications since the facility opened its doors in 1994. Among those publications are many that have since become regarded as breakthroughs. Examples of the excellence and diversity of the science carried out at the ESRF in 2017 are reported here in this latest issue of the ESRF Highlights.

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Francesco Sette

User programme reaches record highs
The ESRF user programme has been vigorous, with ever-increasing interest from users: a record number of proposals received beamtime in 2017 with a record number of user visits (more than 7 000) and experimental sessions (more than 1850); a record number of proposals (more than 1 300) were submitted to our User Office by the September 10 deadline. The 2017 user programme has also greatly benefited from top-up injection using the new 4 Hz booster ramped injection power supply system, which is now fully commissioned and operational. This new top-up injection mode improves operation reliability, delivers a more stable beam and provides an increase in the average brilliance, which is very relevant for four- and 16-bunch filling modes. Top-up injection operation schemes in high current modes have been validated recently and will be implemented in 2018. The upgraded injection system is now essentially ready to be exploited in the future to fill the new EBS storage ring.

New research platforms inaugurated
During 2017, the ESRF refurbishment programme on beamlines and experiment support structures has progressed according to plan. In particular, the Cryo-Electron Microscopy Platform initiative, started in June 2015 in collaboration with our partner institutes on the EPN Campus (EMBL, IBS and ILL), was inaugurated last November with an almost perfect and unexpected concomitance with the announcement of the 2017 Chemistry Nobel prize, granted for the development of the cryo-EM technique for structural biology research. Similarly, the High Power Laser Platform for time-resolved X-ray absorption experiments on shock-waved samples has also progressed, and thanks to the procurement of the laser and the recruitment of a dedicated engineer, its initial operation phase is expected to start in early 2018. These important results improve the support to our user programme, allowing us to exploit new research opportunities provided by innovative and complementary instruments on the same site as X-ray beamlines.
 
Status of the EBS storage ring construction
Concerning the EBS programme, enormous advances have been made over the last three years since the project was launched. The project is so far within the initial schedule and budget and, in July 2017, the plan envisaging the start of the long shutdown in December 2018 until August 2020 was definitively retained. Nearly all parts of the new storage ring have been designed and validated by pre-series components and prototypes. They are currently being manufactured and deliveries are ongoing, with over 60% of all magnets already onsite. Major project milestones have been achieved on schedule, including, in 2017, the in-house assembly of the longitudinal gradient dipoles and the successful construction of a ‘mock-up’ of one of the 32 new storage ring cells. In the meantime, the assembly of the actual EBS girders with magnets, vacuum chambers and instrumentation has begun in a dedicated building.

Four new EBS flagship beamlines
While work on the storage ring progresses well, the second pillar of the upgrade, the ESRF-EBS experimental programme, has also entered a new operational phase. On 27 June 2017 the ESRF Council, representing the 22 partner nations of the ESRF synchrotron, gave the green light for the construction and commissioning of four new flagship beamlines. These new beamlines, endorsed by the ESRF SAC and designed for the full exploitation of the enhanced performance of the EBS, will address major challenges facing our society, including the development of the next generation of drugs, biomaterials and sustainable materials, as well as provide deep insights into the complex mechanisms governing living organisms. They will also elucidate our recent and ancient past, as manifested in historical artefacts and fossils. Moreover, they will provide unique opportunities for applied and innovation-driven research in material and health sciences. They complement the rich portfolio of new beamlines and instruments constructed during the ESRF Upgrade Programme Phase I (2009-2015).

EBS detector and data infrastructure programmes
Together with the new EBS beamlines, the detector and Scientific Data Analysis and Management programmes have been bolstered with the recent recruitment of key technical staff and the establishment of important collaboration initiatives with partner laboratories and synchrotron facilities.

Involvement on the international stage
In addition to its core activities in supporting its users and implementing the EBS, the ESRF is involved in many initiatives with partner laboratories and synchrotron centres, in Europe and around the world, aiming to strengthen and improve opportunities for synchrotron users at the ESRF and worldwide. Examples of this involvement are represented by the ESRF active contribution to EU-funded initiatives such as CALIPSOplus, EuCALL and CREMLIN, and by the support of the SESAME programme. Similarly, the ESRF is a member of a newly created initiative among European X-ray user facilities – LEAPS (League of Electron Accelerator-based Photon Sources) – which aims to contribute to shaping scenarios, strategies and research opportunities in X-ray science at synchrotrons and XFELs in Europe and beyond.

In 2017 India became the 22nd country to join the ESRF programme with particular emphasis on structural biology, underlining the increasing international interest in the ESRF programme.

Reaching out to the younger generation
The ESRF continues to be deeply engaged in supporting programmes to attract and train the younger generations in scientific and technological areas. Besides approximately 130 positions dedicated each year to undergraduate trainees, PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and junior scientists, the ESRF continues to support: 1) The HERCULES School for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows; 2) the ESRF-ILL summer school for undergraduate students; and 3) the programme Synchrotron@school, in partnership with the Académie de Grenoble, dedicated to pupils in scientific and technical secondary schools throughout the ESRF partner countries.

ESRF celebrates 30 years in 2018
In 2018, the ESRF will celebrate its 30th anniversary since the signature of the Intergovernmental Convention establishing the ESRF, signed in Paris in December 1988. Thirty years of ESRF users’ activities, characterised by remarkable scientific discoveries and innovative technical advances, greatly contribute to the technological, health and environmental challenges facing our society. Next year, moreover, ESRF users will also witness the beginning of a new era for synchrotron science, symbolised by the end of operation of the existing storage ring and the beginning of the installation of the new one. The future ESRF operation, due to restart in September 2020 with the new storage ring and a maximum number of beamlines, will be in full swing in 2023 with the completion of the ESRF-EBS programme. By that time, the ESRF will be offering qualitatively new and worldwide unique research opportunities to the world’s synchrotron community. Indeed, the new storage ring, together with the most advanced portfolio of beamlines and experimental infrastructure, will enable scientists to bring X-ray science into research domains and applications that could not have been imagined a few years ago.

The ESRF – with its mission centred on scientific excellence – continues to welcome scientists from all over the world, with their diversity in disciplines, gender, language and culture. As amply shown by the ESRF scientific publication records, the ESRF open user’s programme enables many new and strong collaborations among scientists of different countries and across different disciplines, and therefore it contributes tangibly towards the study of scientific problems of global interest that know no frontiers and whose solutions are shared by all human society. The history of the ESRF shows that international scientific collaboration can create tremendous breakthroughs and build bridges between nations. Many of the scientific highlights reported here are direct testimony of how science can contribute to make a better world for everybody.

I wish to conclude by expressing my profound gratitude to our partner countries for their constant support of the ESRF programme, and to the ESRF staff for their commitment in constructing, maintaining and operating the ESRF. However, all of us at the ESRF wish to wholeheartedly thank the ESRF users, to whom the ESRF Highlights belong and are dedicated, for their wonderful scientific work at the ESRF.

FRANCESCO SETTE
Director General,
ESRF