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EIROforum – renewing facilities for a bright research future

The eight EIROforum research organisations are all in the vanguard of their respective fields, and constantly innovating in order to stay there. All are currently engaged in preparing new facilities or upgrading existing ones to ensure a bright future for European research in the coming decades. This article takes a look at the range of work going on around the labs.


CERN’s newest accelerator, LINAC4, began commissioning in August 2020 as part of the LHC Injectors Upgrade, LIU, project (Image: Andrew Hara/CERN).
CERN’s newest accelerator, LINAC4, began commissioning in August 2020 as part of the LHC Injectors Upgrade, LIU, project (Credit: Andrew Hara/CERN).

CERN is one of the world’s leading laboratories for particle physics. At CERN, physicists and engineers probe the basic structure of matter. To do this, they use large and complex scientific instruments, particle accelerators and detectors, to study fundamental particles, the building blocks of matter, and the forces that shape the universe.

After the spectacular discovery of the Higgs Boson at CERN in 2012, the laboratory’s flagship facility, the Large Hadron Collider, LHC, has not been idle. Since that discovery, the LHC’s second run delivered over an order of magnitude more data than the first, allowing its experiments to probe the Higgs Boson’s properties in detail and explore new avenues in the search for new physics.

Some of the most promising signals for new physics are linked to extremely rare processes. To find those, scientists need to accumulate as much data as possible: the more data, the more likely that rare phenomena will appear. To that end, CERN is preparing the High-Luminosity LHC, HL-LHC, which will increase the total number of collisions the experiments observe by a factor of 10.

Scheduled to begin in 2027, preparations for HL-LHC are already in full-swing. In 2019 and 2020, the full chain of accelerators upstream of the LHC is being upgraded through the LHC Injectors Upgrade, LIU, project to provide higher intensity beams for HL-LHC. This includes commissioning a brand-new linear accelerator, LINAC4, and upgrading facilities, some of which have been in operation since 1959. In parallel, the LHC detectors are also being upgraded to handle the coming data deluge. At CERN, Europe is also leading detector developments for accelerator-based neutrino experiments in the US and Japan.

CERN’s accelerator chain will come back into operation starting in 2021, enabling a range of research to begin at new or upgraded facilities such as ELENA, which will provide intense beams of low-energy antiparticles. LHC physics will resume operation in 2022, with one more long shutdown to ready the LHC itself for high-luminosity running. Looking further ahead, CERN is engaged in studies for potential future electron and proton facilities to follow the LHC after 2040.


When it opens its doors in 2021, EMBL’s new EMBL Imaging Centre will give researchers access to the most modern microscopy technologies available
When it opens its doors in 2021, EMBL’s new EMBL Imaging Centre will give researchers access to the most modern microscopy technologies available (Credit: Heidelberg/Render Vision, gerstner architekten)

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is Europe’s only intergovernmental organisation for life science research. Established to advance the study of molecular biology across Europe, to nurture young talent, new ideas, and technologies, EMBL is constantly evolving and innovating. EMBL undertakes pioneering research and provides cutting-edge biological services and infrastructures that are essential for European science.

All six EMBL sites have essential and complex improvement or expansion plans, responding to growth in their scientific activities or innovations. The EMBL Barcelona site continues to develop and expand, and now hosts five research groups exploring how tissues and organs function and develop in health and disease.

EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute, EMBL-EBI, in Hinxton is enhancing its technical infrastructure supported by funding from UK Research and Innovation, UKRI. This new programme will support EMBL-EBI’s existing and emerging biomolecular data resources, including in areas of major interest, such as genomics and bioimaging. EMBL Hamburg participates in the PETRA IV upgrade to the DESY laboratory’s veteran synchrotron, allowing PETRA to become a high-resolution 3D X-ray microscope, offering outstanding research prospects for cutting-edge nanoscience and materials science.

The development of the EMBL Heidelberg site continues with the construction of EMBL’s Imaging Centre: a dedicated user facility for world-class high-resolution microscopy, due to open its doors in 2021. EMBL Grenoble is looking into a possible extension of its cryo-EM facilities. At EMBL Rome, a large refurbishment of the site is being prepared: major facilities supporting the site’s neurobiology and epigenetics research have been or are currently being upgraded.

The upgrades are essential enablers of EMBL’s ambitious next five-year Programme, due to start in 2022, which seeks to build on existing strengths and expertise to expand into new research areas. By seeking to better understand life in its natural environments, the next Programme will contribute to European efforts to address urgent societal challenges, such as the breakdown of biological diversity, the impact of climate change, the spread in antibiotic resistance, or the emergence of infectious diseases such as the current pandemic.


Artist's view of the configuration of Ariane 6 using four boosters (A64).
Artist’s view of the configuration of Ariane 6 using four boosters (A64) (Credit: ESA – D. Ducros)

The European Space Agency provides independent access to space for Europe. It explores the Solar System, the distant Universe and fundamental physics. It monitors climate change, and drives development of new space technologies for a sustainable use of space, strengthening European economy.

ESA operates some two dozen spacecraft gathering scientific data and monitoring Earth, as well as an extensive ground infrastructure including control facilities, spacecraft communication antennas and Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

In space and Solar System research, Solar Orbiter has opened a new chapter in solar and heliophysics. Juice (to be launched in 2022) will explore Jupiter’s icy moons and their potential to host life; past or present life on Mars is a key subject for the Rosalind Franklin rover (launch 2022), and ESA is participating in a future ambitious Mars sample return mission. Launched in 2019, Cheops will be joined by Plato and Ariel to form ESA’s leading extrasolar planet programme. The cosmology mission Euclid (launch 2022) will focus on the elusive ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’. Future missions Athena and LISA will address fundamental physics through X-rays and gravitational waves. ESA is a partner in the James Webb Space Telescope.

Together with international partners, ESA contributes to the permanent human presence on the International Space Station and to future human lunar exploration through the Artemis programme.

Through its world-leading Earth Observation programme, in partnership with the European Union’s Copernicus programme, ESA remains committed to understanding our planet and mitigating the climate crisis. The regularly updated Sentinel fleet and other Earth-observing spacecraft provide high-quality data on sea levels, soil moisture, melting of glaciers and wind patterns.

Development of next-generation technology is also under way for satellite navigation, another staple of ESA-EU collaboration. Already the current Galileo constellation, jointly with the EGNOS system, delivers the world’s foremost accuracy – and drives innovation in public infrastructure and industrial applications.

ESA’s Ariane programme has been leading Europe to the forefront of space transportation for over 40 years. ESA is advancing space transportation technology with the flexible Ariane 6 and Vega launchers, and is developing reusable technology, such as the Prometheus rocket engine and the Space Rider spaceplane. CleanSpace-1 (for launch in the mid-2020s) will pioneer the removal of debris from orbit.


Artist’s rendering of ESO’s future Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) in operation
Artist’s rendering of ESO’s future Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) in operation (Credit: ESO/L. Calçada)

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, was established in 1962 to build world-class facilities for astronomical research and currently operates three sites in Northern Chile.

La Silla, ESO’s first observatory, produces exciting research, especially on extrasolar planets. HARPS, one of the most successful planet finders in the world, whose construction was led by the Geneva Observatory team awarded with the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics, will soon be joined by NIRPS, extending the capabilities for exoplanet research to the near-infrared.

Paranal Observatory, the most productive ground-based observatory for visible and near-infrared astronomy in the world, hosts the Very Large Telescope (VLT), composed of four 8m-class telescopes. The VLT is equipped with state-of-the-art instruments, including ESPRESSO. This spectrograph is the first capable of combining the light of the four units of the VLT acting as if it were fed by a single 16-meter telescope. The GRAVITY instrument has obtained the best evidence so far of a supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy. VLT capabilities will be further enhanced in the near future with new instruments.

Two major facilities will be added to ESO’s Paranal Observatory over the next decade. ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), under construction on Armazones near Paranal, will be the largest optical/near-infrared telescope in the world. The ELT will revolutionise our perception of the Universe. It will allow astronomers to track down and study Earth-like planets around other stars, where life could exist. It will also probe the furthest reaches of the cosmos, unravelling the secrets of the very first galaxies and the nature of the dark Universe. The second facility under construction at Paranal is the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA-S). Built by an international collaboration and operated by ESO, will be the most sensitive ground-based facility for very high energy astrophysics.

In addition, ESO is part of ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array), a collaboration with North America and Eastern Asia operating an array of microwave antennas yielding high sensitivity and angular resolution. ALMA , at around 5000m above sea level, was adapted to become the main element of the Event Horizon Telescope, which in 2019 published the first image of the shadow of a supermassive black hole.


A view inside the new ESRf-EBS storage ring, the first high-energy 4th-generation synchrotron (Credit: ESRF/stef Candé)
A view inside the new ESRf-EBS storage ring, the first high-energy 4th-generation synchrotron (Credit: ESRF/stef Candé)

The ESRF is a centre of excellence for fundamental and innovation-driven research in condensed and living matter science, providing the international scientific community with unique opportunities to tackle global societal challenges. Thirty years ago, the ESRF made history with the first third-generation synchrotron light source. Today, thanks to the support of its 22 partner countries, the ESRF continues to pioneering synchrotron science with a major upgrade project called Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS), that aims to open a brand-new generation of high-energy synchrotron in August 2020.

EBS is a 150 M€ ESRF upgrade programme over 2015-2022, highlighted as a landmark in the ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures) roadmap and centred around the construction of a brand-new synchrotron source, based on a brand-new storage ring concept fully developed at the ESRF. State-of-the-art beamlines, an advanced instrumentation programme and a data-management implementation plan – required for the efficient exploitation of the new source – complement the programme.

EBS will be the world’s first high-energy fourth-generation synchrotron, with X-ray performance increased by a factor of 100 compared to previous parameters. EBS relies on an important number of key innovative technologies and solves a decades-long puzzle for the implementation of stable and highly performing diffraction-limited high-energy storage rings. EBS programme aims to ensure ESRF remains a pioneer in synchrotron science for the decades to come, efficiently re-uses 90% of previously existing infrastructure, and addresses best practices to lower the ESRF carbon footprint. The new and original EBS concept is based on a Hybrid Multiple Bend Achromat (HMBA) lattice design, which is now paving the way to a new generation of synchrotrons worldwide.

The enhanced X-ray performances of EBS will provide the international scientific community with new tools for the investigation of materials and living matter from the macroscopic world down to the nanometre scale, and to the direct imaging of conglomerates of a few atoms. It will thus allow scientists to probe complex materials in greater detail, with higher quality, and much faster, sparking new research opportunities in fields such as health, energy, environment, new sustainable and innovative materials, but also cultural heritage and palaeontology.

European XFEL

Photon beamlines and photon diagnostics components. (Credit: European XFEL)
Photon beamlines and photon diagnostics components. (Credit: European XFEL)

The world’s largest X-ray free-electron laser, the European XFEL, provides excellent research opportunities, scientific infrastructure and service to the international user community and enables researchers from across the globe to explore the most intricate details of our world. By advancing the frontiers of our knowledge in a wide range of areas, the European XFEL contributes to fundamental science and to solving important societal challenges.

The European XFEL currently has six instruments that are operational, and additional ones are being planned.  As a Free Electron Laser (FEL), the European XFEL is unique in that parallel operation at a high X-ray pulse repetition rate of all beamlines is possible. This means that more experiments and users can be accommodated than at any other FEL facility. The unprecedented high repetition rate of X-ray pulses which is based on the superconducting linear accelerator technology also means that more data can be collected in a shorter period of time.

Instrument capabilities are continually improving and expanding, and more time is being made available for user experiments. The European XFEL accelerator can provide 27. 000 X-ray pulses per second and this capability will be available for experiments in 2021. Like other EIROforum organisations, European XFEL is pushing the technological limit in terms of data transfer, storage, on- and off-line analysis.

European XFEL is also dedicated to welcoming a wider community of new users. From pre-submission support through set-up and analysis, user support protocols and systems are being refined, automatized and extended to ensure that both new and experienced users get the most out of their time at the facility.


Assembly of JT-60SA completed. This will be the most powerful superconducting tokamak until ITER is operational. It results from the successful partnership between Europe and Japan
Assembly of JT-60SA completed. This will be the most powerful superconducting tokamak until ITER is operational. It results from the successful partnership between Europe and Japan (Credit: F4E)

The EUROfusion programme supports and funds fusion research activities on behalf of the European Commission’s Euratom programme. All scientific research and technology development adheres to the European Research Roadmap to the Realisation of Fusion Energy and supports the programme’s goal of making safe, low-carbon commercially-viable fusion electricity energy a reality for future generations.

30 research institutes, eight European fusion devices, 4,000 scientists and 1,000 Masters and PhD students at over 150 universities are all part of EUROfusion. EUROfusion’s flagship device is JET, the Joint European Torus, which is housed at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, near Oxford, UK. JET is currently preparing for Deuterium-Tritium (DT) experiments – the fusion fuel for ITER – scheduled for mid-2021.

Under the Broader Approach Agreement, the joint project between Japan and Europe to upgrade the JT-60SA experimental fusion device located in Naka, Japan is nearing completion. Upon realising its first plasma in early 2021, JT60-SA will be the most powerful tokamak in the world until ITER begins operation thanks in part to its new superconducting coils. EUROfusion will participate in the shared scientific exploitation of JT-60SA, which will be used to study advanced modes of plasma operation.

In step with its sister organisation Fusion for Energy – the EU agency responsible for the European contribution to ITER – EUROfusion is currently focused on preparing for the future exploitation of the ITER research facility currently under construction in Cadarache, France. Together with F4E and industry, EUROfusion’s plan is to leverage the findings of ITER into DEMO – a European demonstration fusion power plant.

EUROfusion and F4E are also collaboratively laying the groundwork for IFMIF-DONES, the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility – Demo Oriented NEutron Source. This materials research facility will be built in Granada, Spain, and will test reactor materials under realistic fusion conditions.


The Institut Laue-Langevin, the leading global player in the provision of neutrons for society
The Institut Laue-Langevin, the leading global player in the provision of neutrons for society (Credit: Cedrine Tresca)

The Institut Max von Laue – Paul Langevin (ILL), the world’s flagship centre for neutron science, has maintained its international leadership by paying constant attention to its capacity for innovative engineering and the construction of ever more powerful instrumentation. The ILL provides scientists with a very high flux of neutrons feeding some 40 state-of-the-art instruments, which are constantly being developed and upgraded.

The latest upgrade programme ‘Endurance’ started in 2016 and is on-going with an additional injection of by the ILL associates and regional funds in 2018 and through the funding in 2019 of Endurance2, allowing additional upgrade projects to be rolled out.

The selection process by the ILL and its partners has resulted in a plan for Endurance2 that breaks down into three different packages, to be deployed between 2019 and 2023.  This new programme will ensure even better performance from the instruments, enhancing the quality of the research users are producing with ILL’s neutrons.  It is an ambitious programme that will require careful planning to ensure that the new instrument and critical infrastructure construction schedules are coordinated with the reactor operating cycles in order to guarantee an uninterrupted supply of neutrons to the existing instruments.

On average, it is estimated that each project will lead to a factor 10 improvement on each instrument. Performance gains can affect capacity (e.g. flux) and capability. The public imaging instrument, the first of its kind at ILL, which will be created by the IM2020-NeXT project, will provide new capability at ILL. The very high, continuous flux at the ILL will provide world-leading capability in imaging. The performance of the experimental programme at the ILL is influenced by a broader range of factors, including sample environment and data treatment. Both are addressed by Endurance through the New Standards for Sample Environment, NESSE, and Better Analysis Software to Treat ILL Experiments, BASTILLE, initiatives.