Swiss-Swedish Partnership in Accelerator, Photon and Neutron Science

“Young researchers need to start planning now”

The Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have signed an agreement with three leading Swedish research institutions covering technology development for the next generation of free-electron lasers and collaboration in photon and neutron science. The agreement promises a world of new research opportunities in materials and life sciences.

On the 28th of November the directors of PSI, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm University, and Uppsala University met at the KTH to formally commit to a long-term collaboration programme. The five institutions will work together to design experiments and develop new accelerator technologies for investigation of molecular structures and unfathomably rapid events.

Joël Mesot, Director of the Paul Scherrer Institute, says the collaboration aims to inspire young researchers to plan their careers years in advance, starting now to get the scientific training required to make use of advanced tools that are scarcely more than dreams today. “These technologies take a long time to build”, he says. “If you don’t start now, you’ll lag behind others who have realised how important these new possibilities are and prepared for them.”

Three fields of accelerator technology are included in the agreement:

Free-electron lasers (FELs) perform like conventional lasers in producing a high-powered beam of coherent electromagnetic radiation, emitted in extremely short and intensive pulses. The free-electron laser has the widest frequency range of any laser type, ranging in wavelength from, to the infrared spectrum, to X-rays. The planned SwissFEL facilitiy will allow scientists to map the atomic details of macromolecules, take three-dimensional images of nano structures, film chemical reactions and study processes such as those occurring deep inside planets.

Under the new agreement, Swedish researchers will bring their expertise in new accelerator components and experiments to SwissFEL, widening the range of research conducted at the future facility.

Neutron scattering is a very effective way to obtain information on the structure and dynamics of condensed matter. A wide scope of problems, ranging from solid-state physics and chemistry to energy and environmental science , can be investigated with neutrons. In addition to scattering techniques, non-diffractive methods can also be applied. The Paul Scherrer Institute is home to the SINQ spallation neutron source that produces a beam of neutrons for use in materials research and investigation of biological substances. Within the agreement, exchange of knowledge and expertise from PSI will enhance the impact of Swedish researches in this field. The five institutions will also be active in the European Spallation Source (ESS), a higher-power facility to be funded and operated by a partnership of 17 European countries. Located in Lund, Sweden, ESS is slated to begin construction in 2013 and become operational in 2019.

Synchrotron radiation produces photons of short wavelength that can be used to probe the structure of matter from the sub-nanometer level of electronic structures to the micrometer and millimeter level. Many collaborations have been formed during the construction and operation of the Swiss Light Source SLS (since its starting phase in 2001), MAX IV, a next-generation synchrotron source, is currently under construction in Sweden.