Italy and the ILL: two decades of successful collaboration in neutron science

By . Published on 26 September 2017 in:
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2017 is a milestone year for Italy at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL), marking the 20th anniversary of its Scientific Membership. Looking back over the last two decades, the collaboration is particularly impressive in terms of the variety, novelty and importance of its many achievements.

The main driving force behind this success has, not surprisingly, been neutron science. Because neutrons are non-destructive and can penetrate deep into matter, they are an ideal probe for most materials – including biological samples. Neutrons also possess a magnetic dipole moment, enabling them to reveal precise information on the magnetic behaviour of materials at atomic level. Exploited for these properties – amongst others! – neutrons allow scientists to observe atoms even on a picosecond time scale, giving them real-time information about where atoms are situated and what laws of dynamics they obey.

As a result, the ILL welcomes research projects spread over a vast range of scientific fields – with outcomes that can revolutionize the future of our computers, transport, alternative energy sources, healthcare technologies… and more.

Accustomed to or newly attracted by neutronic capacities, Italians have frequented the ILL with a steady frequency over the years – reaching an average 5.6% of all scientific users and 14.8% of those welcomed from Scientific Member countries. Over the last 18 years, publications involving Italians remarkably count for 8% of the entire scientific literature published using data generated at the ILL. The ILL has also trained generations of young Italians in readiness to join the future scientific workforce of Europe – over 20% of the PhD students recruited during the last decade at the ILL share Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei’s nationality.

Teaching the numerous applications of neutron science requires leveraging many scientific fields at once. Founded in 2009, the ‘Italian Learning Days School’ gives an introduction in Italian to neutron techniques for condensed matter studies – with applications in physics, chemistry, biology and earth sciences. While its first session, a theoretical one which takes place in Italy, provides students with the fundamentals of neutron spectroscopy and the basic principles of data analysis, the second experimental session allows them to take part in real neutron scattering measurements for two full days at the ILL in Grenoble, France. To date, well over 300 Italian students have enthusiastically attended this school intended for beginners, or its more specialised follow-up course, which began in 2012.

Prompted by its status of ‘service institute’, the ILL has continuously worked to address its users’ needs by developing and building state-of-the-art instruments. The Italian community has made a crucial contribution to this constant process of modernisation, providing both excellent scientific equipment as well as expertise from highly skilled scientists and technicians.

Deprived of a national neutron source since the sixties, the facilities available at the ILL provided Italian researchers with a place where they could conduct experiments but also establish Collaborating Research Groups (CRGs) for the development of two spectrometers, namely BRISP and IN13. This allowed Italy to enrich, enlarge and empower its scientific community in order to remain at a competitive level in a global race.

The instruments VESPA and T-REX are the most recent illustrations of Italy’s undeniable expertise in the field of neutrons. These are two of the sixteen instruments selected to be part of the upcoming European Spallation Source’s instrument suite (to be built in Lund, Sweden). There can be no doubt that they are the result of Italian know-how largely nurtured at the ILL, highlighting just how vital it is for this collaboration to continue so that the scientific potential available on both sides of the Alps continues to grow.

In conjunction with the Italian Society for Neutron Spectroscopy (SISN), the ILL will hold a special conference on 5th October, as a satellite event of the FisMat conference, which will take place from 1st – 6th October at the SISSA Miramare Campus in Trieste, Italy. The afternoon will be devoted to presenting some of the major successes of Italy’s collaboration with the ILL: a fun and relaxed celebration of this landmark anniversary.

Neutron user community in Italy
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Publications involving Italian scientists and using data from the ILL
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