ESRF deploys Olympic efforts for accelerator shutdown


It’s thirty degrees in the shade and the water fountain is in heavy demand. Although a continuous hum of escaping air might be mistaken for crickets, there’s no sun, no sea and it’s nothing like Rio.

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Welcome to ‘The Tunnel’, home to the ESRF’s 844-metre storage ring. And welcome to the summer shutdown: 3 weeks of Olympic efforts to repair, exchange and install new equipment in a limited space and time. Unlike the Olympics, here only gold standards are accepted to ensure high quality beam and reliability for users at the restart.

Over the 3 weeks, we only have 13 days when we can effectively schedule works due to tunnel closure and testing. It’s extremely tight and works have to be constantly adapted due to glitches or events that can turn up along the way’, says Isabelle Leconte, engineer in charge of the works.

Leconte trained as a vacuum technician and has worked at the ESRF for more than 20 years. On top of a solid expertise in vacuum, she has a deep and empirical understanding of the ESRF accelerators. Through her implication in accelerator operation over the last 8 years, she has also gained a global vision of the many different areas of expertise involved in the maintenance and operation of the complex. This knowledge is vital to enable her to coordinate the different groups and follow-up the work.

With more than 140 different jobs to coordinate inside the tunnel, her phone is constantly ringing. ‘One of the critical issues to manage is the occupation of the overhead bridge – all the groups need it at the same time at the beginning of the shutdown and we have to manage priorities,’ explains Isabelle in between two calls. This summer three in-vacuum undulators are being installed (ID11, ID15 and ID31) creating a massive demand on the bridge: usually only one of these huge devices is replaced per shutdown.


Isabelle Leconte inside the tunnel, at the junction between the synchrotron booster and the storage ring.

On ID13, Vincent Grilli, technician in the Front Ends group, has just returned from holiday to take on one of the busiest times of his year. ‘Our holidays are planned around the shutdown. We are just a small group and we rely on each other to get the jobs done in this short period.’

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Technicians, Phoutsavang Vongnarath and Vincent Grilli, remove modules from ID13 front-end as part of a general upgrade to motorise controls. All photos ESRF/K. Colvin

Up, up and away ... with restricted space inside the tunnel, large equipment is moved using the overhead crane.


With fellow technician, Phoutsavang Vongnarath, they are removing three modules from the front end of ID13 and installing an automation system to remotely control the photon flux to the beamline. This manoeuvre is an upgrade of the present system and at term all beamlines will be equipped in this way. They have several jobs planned in the next 13 days and work with an eye on the clock: ‘There’s a sequence in which jobs have to be done. We know other teams, either on the beamlines or elsewhere in the tunnel, are waiting for us to finish before they can start their jobs. It’s a stressful time for everyone,’ says Vincent.

On top of preventive maintenance and repair work, the ESRF is also anticipating works for EBS – The Extremely Brilliant Source, the first of a new kind of storage ring to be built in 2019-2020. 

On the ESRF’s 6 metre straight section in Cell 14, three different vacuum chambers for EBS are being installed to test their design during the next run.

A redistribution of cabling to and from the storage ring is under test in the technical zone of Cell 9. With just under 200 km of cables inside the storage ring, wiring is of major importance. The cabling of the computing network is being moved from underfoot to overhead and new cable paths and power plugs are being installed to safeguard the power supplies and optimise space.

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Nicolas Poirier from Actemium working in Cell 9 on the new cabling configuration for the network.

Diggers clear earth from the centre of the ring in preparation for the construction of new buildings for EBS.

Outside, in the centre of the ring, major earthmoving works are underway for the construction of several new buildings for EBS: two buildings totalling 1000m2 are being created to store new equipment as it is delivered, another building will be a mounting unit, and a fourth building a storehouse for equipment removed from the present storage ring. The base camp for the construction site has been erected ready to welcome the site workers, offices and kitchens.

The summer shutdown usually rhymes with the holiday season for the scientists on the beamlines, or at least a time for tidying-up or writing-up experiments. These 3 weeks without beam also give teams the time to install major equipment as well as carry out regular maintenance or adjustments. 


Jeff Wade, engineer in charge of the installation (front right) with engineers, technicians and scientists on ID06 during the installation of the 6m granite table.

On ID06, a 6m-long granite table, which was designed and engineered in Belgium, is being installed to support a travelling microscope. The microscope will slide along the surface on a system of air pads. 'The accuracy is critical:  the granite's air pad surface is level to within 10µm, or to 1/6 the thickness of a human hair, and has to be aligned perfectly horizontally and in line with the X-ray beam', says Jeff Wade, engineer in charge of the installation. The table base is so heavy that it had to be assembled from several pieces so it could be lifted by the overhead cranes. Once the table is installed, it needs to be cabled and tested, and further optical components have to be mounted. It will be available for users in October.

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From left: Enrico Semeraro, Rajeev Dattani and Oonagh Mannix summer clean the lab.

Jacques Gorini and Narayan Theyencheri in front of ID02.

In the ID02 lab, Oonagh, Rajeev and Enrico have donned their rubber gloves and are meticulously sorting the small equipment and cleaning the surfaces and hoods. Just around the corner, a distinct smell of fresh paint emanates from the experimental hutch. Jacques Gorini, beamline engineer, is pleased with the new floor and of the latest adaptation on the beamline: ‘We’re shortening the support structure of the telescopic tube to give users more space inside the experimental hutch,’ he explains. ‘Users usually have large set-ups that they have to dismantle then reassemble once inside the experimental hutch. Now, they will have the space to install the set-up without dismantling. This will save time and also avoid risks of destabilising the set-up.’

Good luck to the teams working over the summer - they all deserve gold medals!

We look forward to beam back at 8 a.m. on 23 August.

Text by Kirstin Colvin


Top image: The three-week summer shutdown is an intensive time for teams working on the accelerator complex.