BTAPs round 2020-II: news for users


Information concerning the allocation of beamtime in the scheduling period 2020-II under the COVID-19 situation.

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Dear Users, Dear Colleagues,

First of all, we hope this message finds you and your families well.

We wish to inform you about the present plans and activities at the ESRF, which aim to restart the ESRF User Service Mode (USM) with the new EBS storage ring on 25 August 2020.

The ESRF is experiencing an unprecedented disruption of its restart and commissioning plans caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the confinement measures implemented by the French authorities, the ESRF site has been closed from 16 March to 11 May, and during this period the Continuity Plan for the pandemic has been implemented with very few people (2-10) allowed on the ESRF site.

The end of the ESRF site closure and the implementation of a Restart Plan of activities on site is expected during the week of 11 May.  

Firstly, we wish you to note that the new EBS storage ring reached USM performance  parameters on 14 March 2020, i.e. just before the ESRF site lockdown, and 5 months ahead of schedule. Similarly, in the period 30 January to 14 March 2020 enormous progress was made on ESRF ID public beamlines, which all saw light and began their beamline restart and commissioning procedures. This beamline restart was brutally stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic on 16 March, which imposed the ESRF site closure.

In the initial phase of the imminent ESRF restart, which will last until 1 June, the guiding objectives will be to ensure safe working conditions for people on site, and to implement a new master plan aiming at maintaining 25 August 2020 as the restart date of the ESRF USM with a maximum number of operational beamlines.

In line with the recommendations of the French authorities, the return to work on the ESRF site during the period 11 May – 1 June will be gradual: it will require the implementation of strict hygiene and safety measures for people on site, and a policy to minimise the simultaneous presence of staff in a given work place. Consequently, the beamline restart and commissioning phase will be slower than initially planned.

Some ESRF public beamlines and some bending magnet beamlines operated by the CRG teams, as a consequence, will not be ready on time due to delays in the delivery of critical components or delayed commissioning activities. Operational constraints will also most likely apply to ESRF staff and users alike. For example, impact on access to the ESRF site and on the operation of beamlines and facilities may be determined by:

  • travel restrictions for users due to regulations adopted by authorities, the ESRF and/or the user’s institution.
  • reduced ESRF staff presence at ESRF facilities (including CRG BLs) due to social distancing requirements
  • delayed delivery of instrumentation and components required for operation

For these reasons, the ESRF management has decided to give preference to experiments that can be carried out on samples that can be made available to the concerned ESRF beamline staff and through remote communication between users and the local contact, i.e. to the highest ranked proposals for sample mail-in and user remote access experiments.

The implementation of such a plan entails a significant increase of responsibilities and workload for the ESRF beamline staff, which may be partly mitigated by the allocation of additional shifts beyond the request of the users in their proposals.

Under normal operation conditions, the selection of proposals for beamtime allocation is the task of the Beam Time Allocation Panels (BTAPs), with allocation of beamtime based on:

  1. the scientific ranking attributed to the proposals,
  2. the number of available shifts on each beamline, and
  3. the technical feasibility of the project.

Further minor adjustments to the BTAPs ranking are introduced by the Management to optimise fair scientific return to our member and associate countries.

The BTAP meetings took place over 3 days at the end of April, when 120 members of 12 ESRF panels met via videoconference to discuss the proposals submitted for the March 2020 deadline. At the time of those discussions, France was in lockdown and the ESRF site was closed, and therefore it was not possible to have clear and precise numbers and answers for points (ii) and (iii) listed above. The BTAPs were invited to provide their scientific ranking, as usual.

In parallel, the ESRF has been collecting information from all beamlines on the expected operational capabilities in the 2020-II scheduling period, including:

  • the number of shifts available,
  • the suitability for mail-in / remote access of the proposed experiments, and
  • the consent of the users to perform their proposed experiments remotely.

This information, combined with the BTAPs evaluation of the proposals, will allow the ESRF Management in the coming weeks to identify the proposals to which the 2020-II beamtime will be allocated.

To increase the amount of beamtime available in 2020-II, considering the record breaking number of proposals and the expected reduction of the number of operational beamlines, the ESRF has decided to extended the 2020-II scheduling period by one month, until 28 March 2021. Moreover, in view of privileging mail-in and remote-access experiments during this 2020-II period, the ESRF will reimburse the users for the costs incurred when shipping their samples to the ESRF.

We count on your understanding and support for these changes to our standard procedures, which have to be implemented to optimise the return to USM in the forthcoming 2020-II period under the present circumstances.

Harald Reichert, Jean Susini, Directors of Research