As we enter into the 15th year of successful operation of the facility for scientific Users, we look back on the year 2008, which once again saw the full complement of 31 public beamlines, together with 11 additional beamlines operated by Collaborating Research Groups (CRGs), available for experiments by visiting research teams. Figure 174 shows the continuing increase in number of applications for beamtime since 2002 confirming that, although the main beamline construction effort was complete by 1999 and despite the fact that more synchrotrons are now available to European scientists, there is ever-increasing demand for use of the ESRF beamlines and the number of applications for beamtime continues to rise steadily, breaking the 2000 barrier for the first time during 2008.

Fig. 174: Numbers of applications for beamtime, experimental sessions and user visits, 2002 to 2008. N.B. Final numbers of experiments and user visits for 2008 were not available at the time of going to press.

Proposals for experiments are selected and beamtime allocations are made through peer review. Review Committees of specialists, for the most part from European countries and Israel, have been set up in the following scientific areas:

• chemistry

• hard condensed matter: electronic and magnetic properties

• hard condensed matter: crystals and ordered systems

• hard condensed matter: disordered systems and liquids

• applied materials and engineering

• environmental and cultural heritage matters

• macromolecular crystallography

• medicine

• methods and instrumentation

• soft condensed matter

• surfaces and interfaces.

The Review Committees met twice during the year, around six weeks after the deadlines for submission of proposals (1 March and 1 September). They reviewed a record number of 2013 applications for beamtime, and selected 903 (44.9%), which were then scheduled for experiments.

Features of this period:

• increasing numbers of proposals submitted for research into diseases for an ageing society such as neurogenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) and osteoporosis, and for radiobiology for therapy programs (Microbeam Radiation Therapy, Stereotactic Synchroton Radiation Therapy).

• in the area of Soft Condensed Matter, around half of all proposals submitted were concerned with biomaterials.

Requests for beamtime, which is scheduled in shifts of 8 hours, totalled 31 105 shifts or 248 840 hours in 2008, of which 13 906 shifts or 111 248 hours (44.7%) were allocated. The distribution of shifts requested and allocated, by scientific area, is shown in Table 9.

Table 9: Number of shifts of beamtime requested and allocated for user experiments, year 2008.

The breakdown of shifts scheduled for experiments by scientific area in the first half of 2008 is shown in Figure 175. This period saw yet another record broken with the number of user visits going beyond the 3000 barrier for a single scheduling period: 3088 visits by scientists to the ESRF under the user programme, to carry out 741 experiments. Figure 174 shows the rapid rise in the number of user visits since 2002, the higher numbers in recent years reflecting the increased level of automation on many beamlines, resulting in shorter and therefore more frequent experiments across almost all scientific areas but particularly for experiments carried out by the macromolecular crystallography BAG teams.

Fig. 175: Shifts scheduled for experiments, March to July 2008, by scientific area.

Overall, the number of users in each experimental team averaged 4 persons as in 2007, but the average stay decreased to 3 days compared with 4 days in 2007, confirming that experiments have tended to become shorter thanks to many factors including higher automation and increased flux from state-of-the-art optics. The year 2008 also saw the implementation of remote access experiments for macromolecular crystallography, whereby users may run their experiments on the ESRF MX beamlines using a control station in their home laboratories. From July to December 2008, of the 1366 users who performed public experiments on the MX beamlines, nearly 200 did so remotely from their home laboratories.

User responses to questionnaires show that the ESRF continues to maintain its excellent reputation concerning the assistance given by scientists and support staff on beamlines, and travel and administrative arrangements, in addition to the quality both of the beam and of the experimental stations. Facilities on site, such as preparation laboratories, the Guesthouse and a canteen open 7 days a week, also make an important contribution to the quality of user support.