What is the ISUO?

The Irish Synchrotron, Free Electron Laser, Neutron and Muon Users Organisation (or ISUO for short) is a collective grouping of the Irish researchers who use Synchrotron Radiation (SR) light source facilities, Free Electron Laser (FEL) light source facilities and Neutron and Muon beam (NB/MB) facilities. You can learn more about the variety of research that these groups do through this portal. Click on Irish Research Activity to learn more, to see an interactive map of Irish activity using these facilities worldwide or to learn more about a specific Irish research group.

What is our purpose?

Our purpose is to be a visible point of reference for the user community of Irish research groups and scientists who use these facilities; to publicise the work of these groups and the use of these facilities to the general public, to prospective research students and collaborators, and to the science policy makers within Ireland and Europe. Specifically we are involved in lobbying for continued support at a European level for both the SR and FEL accelerator-based light-source facility infrastructure and the NB and MB facility infrastructure for the benefit of scientists within all EU member states and with the objective of maintaining continued Trans-National Access activities through which Irish scientists can access these facilities. Finally, we wish to influence the future landscape of research infrastructures at both a national and a European level.

What is a synchrotron?

In brief a synchrotron is a large facility using accelerated beams of charged particles (electrons) in order to generate a high intensity, tunable, polarised source of x-ray radiation. The x-ray radiation available from this source can be used for a huge variety of physical, chemical, biological, structural and engineering investigations of atoms, molecules, surfaces, crystals, new materials, assemblies of materials, proteins, new pharmaceuticals as well as complex interactions of all of these. The use of x-rays allow for picking out the response of materials on for instance: small length scales, high energy scales, or at particular energies that are specific to differing elements within the material that is to be studied. As a result of the differing needs of differing investigations synchrotron radiation facilities are typically built with between 10-50 different “beamlines” which simultaneously deliver x-rays at differing energies to sets of state-of-the-art equipment built for these differing purposes outlined above. Further discussion of synchrotrons, some examples and links to further resources are on a separate page. Of the more than 45 synchrotron radiation sources worldwide, of which 15 are in Europe, Irish research groups currently use about 12 of these sources.

What is a free electron laser?

A Free Electron Laser or FEL is a very special laser that uses very-high-speed electrons that move freely through a magnetic structure, hence the term free electron as the lasing medium and shares many of the characteristics of a synchrotron radiation facility. The free-electron laser has the widest frequency range of any laser type, and can be widely tunable, currently ranging in wavelength from microwaves, through terahertz radiation and infrared, to the visible spectrum, ultraviolet, and X-ray. Moreover it can be used as a pulsed light source with a very short pulsewidth allowing for dynamic studies on timescales hitherto unachievable in the study of materials or of atomic and molecular processes, which for an x-ray free electron laser is of the order of attoseconds. Further discussion of free electron lasers, some examples and links to further resources are on a separate page. Of the more than 12 free electron laser sources worldwide, of which 6 are in Europe, Irish research groups currently use 4 of these sources.

What are neutron and muon sources?

Neutrons are neutral particles found in the nuclei of every element excepting hydrogen. A beam of neutrons can be generated from special purpose research nuclear reactors for the study of how neutron interact with materials. Neutrons are not deflected by electrostatic interactions with nuclei but are sensitive to magnetic interactions. Due to the properties of their interactions they are widely used in studying new materials, magnetic materials as well as in the structure of how materials form at longer scales than can be easily addressed by diffraction sue to electromagnetic or x-ray radiation. Muons can be thought of as short-lived heavy electrons. Muon beams can be generated at similar but more specialised facilities, and these beams used for the study of materials. Muons when be inserted into materials can take the place of an electron and the manner of their decay back to electrons can give unique information about the behaviour of electrons in the materials studied. Further discussion of neutron and muon beam sources, some examples and links to further resources are on a separate page. Currently one Irish research group uses one of the European muon source facilities.

How do scientists in Ireland access these sources?

No such Irish facility exists – they require too much capital investment and running costs – but we are fortunate in that science is an open process and Irish research groups can in principle access these facilities in other nations where most of these facilities are directly supported by their national governments.

  • Scientists can access the experimental equipment at these sources, whether synchrotron facilities, free electron laser facilities, or neutron source facilities, in principle by simply proposing to the facility to do an interesting and relevant experiment using the equipment at these facilities. These proposals are internationally peer reviewed and each proposal to use a specific “beamline” competes with proposals from other international groups who wish to use that same “beamline” at these facilities.
  • Only those proposals which receive the highest ranking in a review process, representing those objectively determined to be excellent scientific proposals, are those that receive or are allocated time for their proposed experiments.
  • The experimental time at these facilities is given “free of charge” to the successful user applicant, but actually represents a substantial investment of the resources of the facility (running costs, personnel costs) in the science proposed by the successful user. Thus for Irish research users allocation of time at these facilities this represents an inward investment into Irish research by the national facilities of other countries.
  • The costs of a team of Irish researchers accessing the facility by travelling to, staying and working at these facilities for typically a week long experiment is either borne by the user group through their research awards or, for a facility within the EU, had been supported by an Integrating Activity of the EU Framework programmes or up until 2015. Unfortunately this EU Trans National Access (TNA) support is coming to and end in 2015 with no replacement in sight.
  • One caveat or complication is that some facilities are in fact International Research Organisations that are established by intergovernmental treaties, such as the ESRF, XFEL, the EMBL, ILL, ESS and access to these by Irish researchers formally would require that Ireland is a member of the relevant organisation. Of these Ireland is only a member of the EMBL – the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.

Trans National Access within the EU

The EU Commission long ago recognized the value in funding what became known as Integrating Activities through the Research Framework Programmes (FP). Through these FP actions researchers in Europe who crossed borders to perform experiments at SR, FEL, NB or MB facilities – so-called Trans National Access (TNA) – could draw down from the facility central EU TNA funding (if eligible) to cover some of the travel, accommodation and expenses for one or more researchers of their team. This has been acknowledged by the Commission as being a great success, perhaps even the best example, of Integrating Activities in FP6 where EU TNA funding through IA-SFS contributed to supporting more than 10,000 participations over the duration of these programmes of EU scientists using SR facilities located in other EU member states.

The most recent FP7 integrating activity programmes supporting access to SR/FELs for physical and chemical sciences are CALIPSO (homepage and EC website), to SR/FELs for biological sciences and macromolecular crystallography are BioStruct-X (homepage and EC website), and for access to neutron and muon beam facilities are NMI3 (homepage and EC website).

These programmes are all ending in 2015 or early 2016 with no replacement forthcoming in Horizon 2020. The danger of this to European science has been highlighted by the European Synchrotron User Organisation (ESUO) in a published letter to the European Commission entitled “The benefit of the European User Community from transnational access to national radiation facilities” to which the Irish delegate to the ESUO is a signatory.

The ESUO responded further in 2014 by publishing a new manifesto – “TOWARDS EVEN BRIGHTER EUROPEAN PHOTON SCIENCE – A manifesto for a truly European photon science community“. The ESUO, and now the ISUO, continue to lobby the European Commission and the National delegates of the member nations to the European Commission to adequately address this issue and support TNA into the future.

The European Synchrotron Users Organisation

The Irish research community who use synchrotron radiation and free electron laser sources contribute a national delegate to the European Synchrotron Users Organisation (ESUO). The ESUO was established in 2010 and is an organization with the aim of coordinating the synchrotron radiation user activities within Europe to guarantee the realization and access to the best beamlines in Europe. Delegates are drawn from every EU member nation. Specifically, the ESUO is lobbying for extension of EU funding to TransNational Access based activities. In 2014 the ESUO with signatories from all EU member nations collectively wrote and published a letter to the European Commission entitled “The benefit of the European User Community from transnational access to national radiation facilities”. The Irish delegate to the ESUO present at that ESUO meeting, Cormac McGuinness, is a signatory. The ESUOs 2014 manifesto – “TOWARDS EVEN BRIGHTER EUROPEAN PHOTON SCIENCE – A manifesto for a truly European photon science community” clearly outlines the need for continued support for this important sector of the EU research community. The ISUO and more importantly the members of the Irish research community seek to support the ESUO in these aims in addressing this EU-wide issue and encourage the European Commission and Ireland to support TNA into the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many questions may be already addressed in these webpages, but a (probable) list of most likely asked question is on the FAQ page.