Public Release: 

£6 million award to enable UK-owned X-ray facility to continue delivering world class science

UK physicists, material scientists and chemists to benefit from 5 years of funding for world leading x-ray scattering instrument

University of Liverpool

UK government research funders have awarded £6million to XMaS, the world leading mid range x-ray facility at the ESRF, to continue helping scientists explore the microscopic and atomic structure of matter.

The funding has been awarded to the facility's owners at the Universities of Liverpool and Warwick, by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the UK Government's Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Constructed in the mid-1990s, XMaS is based at the European Synchrotron Radiation in Grenoble. It has so far been used by over 40 universities and research institutes helping them study the atomic and magnetic structures of materials and the properties they exhibit under different conditions at scales ten thousand times thinner than a human hair.

It works by focusing a beam of X-rays onto samples, the atoms of which deviate or absorb the radiation, leaving behind a 'fingerprint' in the outgoing beam that reveals the samples detailed structure.

Originally conceived as a tool to probe magnetic materials (hence the acronym X-ray Magnetic Scattering), its scope is now far broader with 20 active UK research groups (representing approximately 100 researchers) covering materials science, physics, chemistry, soft condensed matter and biomaterials. With this wider reach, the facility is able to contribute directly to societal challenges such as energy storage and recovery, the digital economy and advances in healthcare technologies.

Recent research highlights include:

  • Performing the world first detailed structural analysis of tooth growth and maturity to reconstruct ancient human migratory maps based on tooth analysis, and help scientists re-grow teeth from stem cells or artificial implants

  • New advances in the study of magneto-electric materials that will underpin more efficient data storage

  • Testing existing techniques and exploring new methods to reducing corrosion of cultural heritage metals such as artefacts recovered rom the Mary Rose and historic church organs

As well as world leading research, XMaS scientists have also developed a wide range of new technology specifically for use on the instrument. Since 2003 exploitation licenses taken out on these innovations have generated close to 1 million Euros in sales to the global scientific community, and the equipment developed at XMaS has had a significant impact on the way experiments are carried out around the world.

Two of the best selling innovations to date are:

  • The X-Y-Z Cryostat Mount - allows scientists to position samples within the beamline with sub-micron precision. In the past such precision was only achievable by interrupting the experiment, unlocking the radiation hutch and making the adjustments manually. Users estimate that the mount saves at least half a day's worth of time during each run of experiments.

  • Compact lever operated slits - can be incorporated in the vacuum path very close to the sample to reduce background scatter, the irrelevant noise that affects the resolution of the data produced.


Christopher Lucas, Professor of Physics at the University of Liverpool and co-Director of XMaS said: "This announcement is a major boost for the UK scientific community. In less than 20 years of operation, the techniques we have perfected at XMaS have seen impact across various research fields including healthcare, energy and materials for next generation computing. Exploitation of technology and instrumentation developed at XMaS have also reached close to 1million Euros. This combination of world leading research and knowledge transfer ensures XMaS will continue to deliver an excellent return on our government's investment."

Professor Thomas Haas of the University of Warwick said: "This continued funding is a real vote of confidence in the quality of science we do at XMaS. Requests for beam time are close to double what we can accommodate. For scientific facilities this is an ideal situation, representing a high enough demand to ensure only excellent, internationally competitive science is performed. Because of this approach we see a very healthy ratio of beam time to publication, with one new paper coming from every two experimental runs on average, and an increasing proportion of these are in the highest impact publications."

Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) said: "Funding excellent fundamental and applied science is key to everything that EPSRC does and that's why we have just committed more funds to the XMaS beamline."

Francesco Sette, ESRF Director General said: "The UK scientific community that uses synchrotron radiation is among the most competitive, structured and dynamic in the world. The XMaS beamline is a perfect example of how a scientific programme has been able to renew and adapt itself according to the changing expectations of the scientific community over the last fifteen years. It remains very competitive and is in demand among both UK and ESRF public users, rendering a continuous and highly appreciated service with a scientific output of high impact. I am delighted to learn that the EPSRC and the BIS have confirmed the renewal of their support with a further five-year grant. I look forward to an even stronger collaboration with the XMaS team and with the UK community at large for many years to come!"


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