HERCULES: training the large-instrument scientists of the future


ID01, Tuesday morning. Five young scientists scrutinize the screens in front of them while Marie Ingrid Richard, researcher on the beamline, shows them how to aim the X-ray beam onto a silicon-germanium wafer to map its strain and structure. They are participants of the 26th Hercules school, the Higher European Research Course for Users of Large Experimental Systems, and this is the first of a series of practical sessions at the ESRF.

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For most, this is their first visit to a synchrotron. “It is very exciting, the practicals give you a different view of the facility compared to the lectures, although both are necessary”, explains Alexandra Mannig from ETH Zûrich in Switzerland. "The course is as good as I expected it to be after hearing about it from people at Uni", says Tomas Verhallen from TU Delft in The Netherlands. "The lectures are given by professionals and are really well explained".

Two beamlines further around the ring, on ID29, five other HERCULES students are fishing crystals with Daniele de Sanctis, beamline scientist. After this they will try to solve the structure of a protein, following the same steps the users follow when they come here. The atmosphere is relaxed and although the students are only two weeks into their five week course, they already seem to know each other quite well.

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On ESRF ID29, from left to right: D. De Sanctis (ESRF), Alejandro Panjkovich, EMBL Hamburg, Chris Yen-Chen Lo, NTHU, TPS, Taiwan, Manuela Denz, Georg August University, Germany, Jacopo Cantela, University of Rome "Sapienza", Italy. Photo: ESRF/M. Capellas.

On ESRF ID01, from left to right: Tomas Verhallen, TU Delft, The Netherlands, Alexandra Mannig, ETH, Zürich, Switzerland, Benoit Geslot, CEA Cadarache, Yu-Hsiang Chen, Linköping University, Sweden, Marie-Ingrid Richard (ESRF). Photo: ESRF/M. Capellas.


Every year since 1991 the HERCULES European school brings together around 80 scientists from all over the world to train them in the use of large instruments by providing a general overview of the techniques and scientific possibilities associated with neutrons and synchrotron radiation. Competition is fierce and only half the applicants obtain a place on the course.

This year, HERCULES includes students from as far away as Russia, South Africa and Taiwan. Some are already studying for their PhDs at a synchrotron, for example Alejandro Panjkovich from DESY in Germany, and Chris Yen-Chen Lo from the NTHU in Taiwan. They have already spotted some differences between their home institutes and the ESRF: "Coffee machines are everywhere around the ring here. It's a great idea, we should really take up on that in Taiwan”, says Chris. He adds that “the safety measures here are very strict compared to back home”. For Alejandro, "DESY is very similar to the ESRF", although the "food here is great by comparison”!

On 22th April, the Taiwanwese students received the visit of M.Zhang Ming-Zhong, Ambassador of Taiwan in France. It wa the occasion to present the HERCULEs School in presence of the Director General of the ESRF, Francesco Sette, the President of the COMUE Grenoble, Patrick Lévy, the president of the University Grenoble-Alpes, Lise Dumasy, and the Administrator General of Grenoble INP, Brigitte Plateau.


Over the five week course, the students will spread their time between the ESRF, ILL and IBS on the EPN campus, as well as spending one week on another site, either at Soleil and Laboratoire Léon Brillouin in Paris-Saclay, at DESY and the European XFEL in Hamburg, Elettra and Fermi in Trieste, Italy, or PSI in Villigen, Switzerland.

HERCULES is co-organised by Université Grenoble Alpes and Grenoble Institute of Technology, in partnership with the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) and the CEA, and the large scale research infrastructures mentioned above.

Top image: Around 80 students from across the globe participate in the programme. Credit: Grenoble INP - Alexis Chézières.