Seeking the secrets of matter and making the invisible visible

The ESRF, the European Synchrotron, is an international research facility supported by 21 countries, based in Grenoble, France. Thanks to high-level, innovative engineering and cutting-edge vision, the ESRF is recognised as a global leader in its field, welcoming more than 9.000 scientists every year, from all over the world, from academia and industry, to study the inner structure of materials and living matter down to the atom.

Thanks to the brilliance and quality of its X-rays, the ESRF functions like a ‘super-microscope’ which ‘films’ the position and motion of atoms in condensed and living matter, and reveals the structure of matter in all its beauty and complexity. It provides unrivalled opportunities for scientists in the exploration of materials and living matter in many fields: chemistry, material physics, archaeology and cultural heritage, structural biology and medical applications, environmental sciences, information science and nanotechnologies.

The ESRF produces X-rays 10 trillion times brighter than the X-rays used in hospitals. These 'hard' X-rays, endowed with exceptional properties, are produced by the high energy electrons that race around the storage ring, a circular tunnel measuring 844 metres in circumference. Each year, the demand to use these X-ray beams increases and thousands of scientists from around the world come to Grenoble, to conduct experiments at the 44 ‘beamlines’, each equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation, and managed by highly qualified scientific and technical experts.

Pioneering synchrotron science

“Audacity and innovation underpin the history of the ESRF. With the opening of ESRF-EBS (Extremely Brilliant source), the first fourth-generation high-energy synchrotron on August 2020,  together with the most advanced portfolio of new beamlines, the ESRF enables scientists to bring X-ray science into research domains and applications that could not have been imagined a few years ago,” said Francesco Sette.

In 1988, the ESRF made history as the world’s first third-generation synchrotron light source. In its lifetime, the scientific output from ESRF instruments has totalled over 32,000 scientific publications, and it has generated four Nobel Prize laureates.

On August 2020, the ESRF opened a completely rebuilt x-ray source, ESRF-EBS (Extremely Brilliant Source), the world’s first fourth-generation high-energy synchrotron. With performances multiplied by 100 in terms of brilliance and coherence, EBS opens new vistas for X-ray science in imaging condensed and living matter from the nanoscale, enabling scientists to address the global challenges facing our society such as health, climate changes and environment, but also energy and innovative industry. The EBS project includes also a new state-of-the-art beamline portfolio, an ambitious scientific instrumentation programme, and a ‘data as a service’ strategy to exploit the high performances of this new X-ray source.

The new EBS beamlines will make it possible to probe complex materials at the atomic level in greater detail, with higher quality, and much faster, and thus to provide deep insights into the complex mechanisms governing living organisms. They will help elucidate our recent and ancient past, as manifested in historical artefacts and fossils. What’s more, they will provide unique opportunities for applied and innovation-driven research.

Aerial view of the ESRF Aerial view of the ESRF Aerial view of the ESRF Aerial view of the ESRF

The ESRF is not only a landmark for science, it is a local landmark too in the "city of the Alps". With a circumference of 844 m, the storage ring is also visible from the three surrounding mountain ranges: the Belledonne, Chartreuse and Vercors. Images credit: ESRF/D. MOREL.

A unique worldwide research facility, a centre of excellence

  • 9 000 scientists from around the world visit the ESRF every year to conduct experiments in a very wide variety of fields, ranging from chemistry and physics of materials to archaeology and cultural heritage, as well as structural biology and medical applications, environmental science, information technology and nanotechnologies.
  • 4 Nobel prize-winners among the ESRF users
  • A record number of publications
    • More than 32,000 refereed articles
    • Nearly 2,000 publications per year, equivalent to around 5 every day
  • 30% of the public research involves industrial participation


ESRF key dates

  • 1975: Idea for a European third-generation synchrotron source
  • 1988: Signing of the agreement among the governments of 12 Member States
  • 1992: First electron beam in the storage ring
  • 1994: Inauguration. User operations began with 15 beamlines
  • 1998: Forty beamlines in operation
  • 2009: Start of the ESRF Upgrade Programme
  • 2012: New design for the storage ring
  • 2015: Start of Phase II of the Upgrade Programme with ESRF-EBS, the Extremely Brilliant Source
  • 2018: The ESRF celebrated its 30th anniversary. The ESRF’s X-ray source was shut down for a 20-month upgrade to the new Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS).
  • 2020: The Extremely Brilliant Source opened to users on 25 August 2020


21 partners: a model of international cooperation

13 Member States

  • 27.50% France
  • 24.00% Germany
  • 13.20% Italy
  • 10.50% United Kingdom
  •  6%00 Russia
  •  5.80% Benesync (Belgium, The Netherlands)
  •  5.00% Nordsync (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden)
  •  4.00% Spain
  •  4.00% Switzerland


9 Associate countries

  • 1.75% Austria
  • 1.75% Israel
  • 1.00% Poland
  • 1.00% Portugal
  • 0.66% India
  • 0.60% Czech Republic
  • 0.30% South Africa
  • 0.25% Hungary