ESRF trains synchrotron scientists from Africa, the Americas and the Middle East


In November and December, the ESRF welcomed four student-scientist pairs from Mexico, Senegal and Cyprus within the frame of the Lightsources for Africa, the Americas and Middle East Project (LAAMP).

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These faculty-student (FAST) teams were awardees of the 1st LAAMP call for projects in 2017. The project aims to enhance advanced light sources (AdLS) and crystallographic sciences in Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and the Caribbean. By enhancing AdLS and crystallographic sciences, major challenges facing these regions can be addressed through the wide range of research carried out at light sources. For example, through a better understanding of how viruses work, scientists can help tackle the devastation caused by Zika, Ebola and HIV. By studying energy producing or energy storage systems, materials research can help develop modern energy systems. X-ray techniques will also offer the non-destructive exploration of important archaeological and palaeontological treasures of these regions.

Dr Diouma Kobor and PhD student Ndeye Coumba Yandè Fall have travelled from the University Assane Seck of Ziguinchor in Senegal. They are learning the techniques available on the ESRF’s ID12 and ID13 beamlines with ESRF scientists Manfred Burghammer and Fabrice Wilhelm to help further their research into the nano structure of silicon and the electromagnetic properties of perovskites.

“I’m studying photo sensitive materials for my PhD and hope to improve their performances and develop new materials in this field,” says Ndeye Coumba Yandè. “It’s my first experience in a synchrotron and the first time for me in France. The ESRF offers amazing opportunities in all areas of science. One day I’d like to work in the African Light Source so it’s important for me to learn as much as possible now about how these instruments work.”

It’s Diouma’s second visit to the ESRF. The first time was for the First African Light Source (AFLS) Conference and Workshop hosted by the ESRF in 2015. He says: “This project is the logical follow-on from the AFLS workshop. To build and run a light source we also need a good network of people with the knowledge on how to use synchrotron radiation and the different techniques available. We need to prepare and train these people before the AFLS is up and running. Here, the ESRF is helping us to train Africa’s future scientists. We acknowledge ICTP, ESRF, AfLS and their partners for this excellent and innovative joint project that is LAAMP.”

2017-11-21-_LAAMP-groupPhoto-Argoud-1.jpg (LAAMP PROJECT)

FAST-teams and hosts in the entrance hall of the ESRF. Left to right, back row: Marine Cotte, Hiram Castillo (ESRF), Ndeye Coumba Yandè Fall (Senegal), Fabrice Wilhelm, Jean Susini (ESRF), Diouma Kobor (Senegal), Kirsi Lorentz (Cyprus), Ed Mitchell (ESRF). Front row: Ibrahim Serroukh, Marco Garduño, Julio César Lerma Hernández, Maria Elena Fuentes (Mexico), Grigoria Ioannou (Cyprus), Alberto Bravin (ESRF). ©C. Argoud.

Ibrahim Serroukh is a professor and lecturer at the University of Queretaro in Mexico. He is also a board member of the Mexican synchrotron radiation source project. With PhD student, Marco Garduño Ramón he is working with ESRF’s Alberto Bravin on ID17 beamline on applied medical research into first stage diagnosis and therapy in breast cancer.  “We’ve been learning about using phase contrast techniques for imaging and mammography. I’m very impressed by the very high level of science and technology and also by the organisation of the ESRF. It’s amazing to see how the ESRF has made it easy for people from all over the world to work together despite the diversity of their cultures and backgrounds. The ESRF is definitely the right place for us to pursue our research. It’s just a shame it’s 9000 kms away from Mexico.”

Dr Kirsi Lorentz, Assistant Professor, and her 2nd year PhD student, Grigoria Ioannou, from The Cyprus Institute’s (CyI) Science and Technology in Archaeology Research Centre (STARC) are both bioarchaeologists who study ancient human remains to understand more about life in the past. Their work focuses on the ancient Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“In collaboration with Marine Cotte and Wout de Nolf on ID21, we’ve been able to map metal element localisation in 5000-year-old human hair samples,” says Kirsi. This information helps to distinguish between the different processes that led the metal elements to be integrated on or within the hair, such as environmental pollution, craft activities or taphonomic contamination. It is not possible to map metal element localisation with conventional laboratory based methods at the required level of detail, and therefore synchrotron light is crucial to our research.”

“For example, we’ve been able to detect elevated levels of copper within our 10 µm thick hair cross sections, and map copper localisation. We will be submitting a proposal for beamtime to further explore these research questions at the ESRF.”

Their two months at the ESRF have also included discussions with beamline scientists at several other ESRF beamlines to explore further research directions, as well as training in different sample preparation techniques, and lab-based methods of analysis.

Concerning her first impressions of the ESRF, Grigoria says she is captivated by the sense of a united research community: “I’m impressed by the wide range of disciplines coming together at ESRF for one purpose, that of research. Despite all the different cultures, we are a community with a similar mindset, one that is focused on producing high quality research.”


One of the FAST-teams from Mexico with ESRF staff on the ID17 beamline. From left to right: Caterina Amendola (Master's student from Politecnico Milano), Herwig Requardt, Alberto Bravin, Alberto Mittone (ESRF),  Ibrahim Serroukh and Marco Garduño (University of Queretaro, Mexico). ©ESRF/C. Argoud

“I’m from Chihuahua, a state in northern Mexico. We grow a lot of apples there and that’s one of the reasons why I chose my research topic,” says Julio César Lerma Hernández. He is in the first year of a PhD in chemical science at the University of Chihuahua. He studies the structure of polyphenols to better understand which molecules are responsible for the antioxidant activities in apples and their derivatives. He’s come to the ESRF with tutors Erika Salas Muñoz and Maria Elena Fuentes to learn about X-ray diffraction and small angle X-ray scattering techniques.

Maria Elena Fuentes admits to having been a fan of synchrotron radiation for many years. “There are so many synchrotron techniques and it’s better to know a few if you want to work in a synchrotron. I’m a crystallographer and I’m here to work on organic compounds with XRD,” she explains. “You can’t beat synchrotron techniques when you are looking into the atomic and electronic structures of active molecules,” she adds.

The LAAMP project will continue in 2018 and the ESRF expects to welcome more FAST teams in the future. Many of the 2017 awardees have applied for LAAMP continuing grants to pursue the work started during their recent placements at the ESRF.


LAAMP is an IUPAP-IUCr (International Union of Pure and Applied Physics – International Union of Crystallography) project approved and funded under the 2016-2019 International Council for Science (ICSU) Grants Programme.

The ESRF is one of the ten advanced light sources (AdLS) that are collaborative partners of LAAMP. For the first call for applications for faculty-student (FAST) teams, seven teams were awarded two-month placements within the structures of the collaborative partners. Four of the seven teams were welcomed by the ESRF between October and December 2017.

Visit the LAAMP official website


Text by Kirstin Colvin

Top image: Diouma Kobor and PhD student Ndeye Coumba Yandè Fall with ESRF's Fabrice Wilhelm on beamline ID12. ©ESRF/C. Argoud