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ESRF: a more brilliant, more coherent source hails a new era in the scientific exploration of matter and life

This summer, after being shut down for 20 months, the ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility) has once again opened its doors to scientists, boasting an X-ray source that is one hundred times more brilliant than before (the EBS, Extremely Brilliant Source). Researchers at the Interdisciplinary Research Institute of Grenoble (CEA-IRIG) are involved in designing new experiments using the new beamlines, which are smaller, more brilliant and more coherent.​

Published on 30 September 2020

After operating the ESRF for 26 years, a new electron accelerator was installed in the 844m-circumference ring tunnel at the ESRF in 2019-2020. It is made up of nearly double the number of magnets (over 1,000 in all) than its predecessor had. These magnets are now arranged in a Hybrid Multi Bend Achromat (HMBA) lattice. This produces a beam that is thirty times smaller and more stable, a hundred times more brilliant for the same illuminated surface, and has exceptional optical coherence characteristics!

Researchers at IRIG, with French and European support including the ERC Consolidator Grant awarded to Marie-Ingrid Richard, are now working to develop new techniques to take full advantage of these new characteristics, especially the improved coherence of the EBS, to study nanostructures in the fields of catalysis and microelectronics. These innovations will also be used to advance imaging of biological tissue enabling us to visualize details as fine as the presence of metal-centered proteins in the membrane wall of a cell.


The five French beamlines at the ESRF (see below) still need upgrading. Their optics and detectors need to be replaced. Only then will it be possible to take full advantage of the performances of the new X-ray beam. To this end, the CNRS and the CEA have submitted a project dubbed 'Magnifix', backed by the Université Grenoble Alpes, for funding under the third wave of France's Investment in the Future Program (PIA3). If selected, work on the upgrade will run from 2021 to 2025, while remaining open to users.


Like France's Soleil synchrotron, but with higher-energy X-ray beams, the ESRF synchrotron can be used to delve into the incredible complexity of matter, even that of inaccessible, 'buried' structures, at the nanometric and macroscopic scales. For example, it could be used by physicists to track the insertion of lithium ions in a battery electrode, or to study interface structures in microelectronic devices. Biologists may perform conventional X-ray crystallography analysis of macromolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids (that have first been crystallized). This technique, which will be faster than before, will be improved even further thanks to the development of time-resolved crystallography on microcrystals, using more finely-focused, more intense X-ray beams.  


The five French beamlines at the ESRF

The CEA's Fundamental Research Division (DRF) is the French 'supervisory body' of the ESRF, in partnership with the CNRS and, also jointly with the CNRS, operates the five Collaborating Research Group (CRG) beamlines. Two-thirds of total beamtime is allocated to French users by the joint scientific committees run with Soleil, and the remaining third is allocated to other European users by the ESRF program committees.

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