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What is the ESRF?

Imagine a source that produces X-rays 10 trillion times brighter than the X-rays used in hospitals, X-rays that allow us to fathom the structure of matter down to the minutest detail, at the atomic level. Imagine no further! These X-rays, endowed with exceptional properties, really do exist. They are produced at the ESRF – The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility – located in Grenoble, France, in an international and innovative campus.

A brilliant light for science

The ESRF hosts the most intense and brilliant hard X-ray source existing today worldwide. These X-rays are produced by the high-energy electrons that race around the institute’s emblematic "storage ring", an accelerator of impressive proportions, with a circumference of 844 metres.

The ESRF functions like a giant 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 a very wide variety of fields: chemistry, material physics, archaeology and cultural heritage, structural biology and medical applications, environmental sciences, information science and nanotechnologies. It can help to answer questions such as: What is our planet made of? How can we explain the properties of matter? Will we be able one day to develop better targeted drugs to overcome pandemics or cancer, to produce more efficient renewable materials, to invent new electronic components, to tackle pollution more successfully?

A benchmark for science and innovation

The ESRF is an international cooperation that has steadily grown since its foundation in 1988 when 11 European countries united to draw up the statutes of the company. The ESRF is registered under French law as a "Société Civile".

In 1994, the ESRF opened for user operation and was officially inaugurated with 15 beamlines, or experimental stations. Today, the ESRF is backed by 21 partner nations and has 44 highly specialised beamlines, each equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation. The institute operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The ESRF employs 650 people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures. 

Each year, about 9000 scientists from around the world come to the ESRF to conduct experiments at the beamlines.

A large part of the research carried out at the ESRF is peer-reviewed and the results are published in the public domain with open access.

The ESRF also offers research opportunities for industrial research and development. The experimental techniques available allow for testing in real time and under real operating conditions. Major companies in the fields of pharmaceuticals, chemistry, catalysis, cosmetics, food, batteries, nanotechnologies, medicine and materials use the ESRF’s non-destructive techniques to improve their products and processes.

Pioneering synchrotron science

The world of research is highly competitive. The ESRF has been a leader in the field since the beginning and has a track record for breaking records (source brilliance, X-ray beam stability and coherence).

To maintain this leadership, the ESRF launched an extensive modernisation programme in 2009 that saw the creation of 19 new beamlines and many developments in instrumentation.

In 2015, the ESRF launched a second and major step in the modernisation with the ESRF-EBS project (ESRF-Extremely Brilliant Source).

On 25 August 2020, the ESRF opened its completely rebuilt x-ray source, ESRF-EBS, the world’s first fourth-generation high-energy synchrotron. Together with the most advanced portfolio of new beamlines, ESRF-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.

In total the ESRF has invested 330 M€ over the period 2009-2022 for its upgrade programme:

2009-2015 ‘Upgrade Programme Phase I’ 150 M€
2015-2022 ‘ESRF-EBS’ 180 M€
Total 330 M€