50 years on and still going strong

ILL’s achievements

Here we see some of the ILL’s many achievements in its 50 year history
(Credit: ILL)

The international success story of the ILL

The UK is celebrating 50 years of scientific excellence at one of Europe’s leading international research facilities.

The Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in France, a ‘giant microscope’ which enables research into fields ranging from Earth science to engineering, was founded on 19 January 1967.

Since its opening, it has provided access to scientists from 45 different countries with 40,000 experiments taking place, resulting in more than 20,000 publications. More than a quarter of the experiments were conducted by UK scientists.

The UK has played a pivotal role in the facility’s success. It is one of three Associate Members, alongside France and Germany and continues to fund, through a subscription from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, access to the World’s leading neutron source for UK scientists.

It was our counterpart Associate members France and Germany who first joined up to the ILL in 1967 but on New Year’s Day in 1973, the UK joined, and since that date has never looked back.

GB signature

The UK signs up to the ILL in 1973

It was from this time that the British started to arrive in Grenoble. Prior to that, there had been a handful of high-level delegations and short-term visits by scientists to ILL but from 1973 onwards, UK scientists started to bring with them, their considerable expertise in the field of neutron science.

The British brought their ‘hands-on’ experience, mainly gained at Harwell in Oxfordshire, but as Professor Bill Stirling, who joined the ILL as an instrument scientist in the early days and later moved on to be a Director of ILL, said, the facility was going to have an international flavour right from the start. He made these comments in a submission to a 50th anniversary book produced by the ILL:

“Many had also spent time at Saclay and Julich, Brookhaven, Chalk River and Lucas Heights. Indeed several of the ‘British’ were actually proud holders of Australian passports, with in addition, an Italian with an Edinburgh PhD!”

He added: “The international nature of ILL’s staff is certainly one of the major reasons for the ILL’s scientific and technical success. Indeed the ILL’s role as the neutron ‘crossroads’ of the world has allowed fruitful interaction between scientists from different disciplines; biologists talked with materials scientists while even chemists and physicists exchanged ideas and opinions”.

Professor Bill Sterling has one of the longest standing relationships with the ILL, but many, many UK scientists have contributed to its success.

Here we find just a selection of UK breakthroughs over the years:

Matthew Blakely is one of the UK scientists currently working at the ILL. He was at the facility for his Manchester University/ILL PhD in 2002-3 and then returned in 2007 as an instrument scientist on the LADI instrument.

He said:

"Working at the ILL has been a fantastic opportunity to be at the forefront in the development of new instrumentation and techniques for neutron protein crystallography. The improvements to the LADI instrument, particularly through the Millennium Programme, the H14 guide project and the PhD programme, have made it possible for me to be involved with many exciting and important Structural Biology research projects."

One of the key aspects to international collaboration is the opportunity for information exchange it provides. Professor Andrew Harrison, the current CEO of the UK’s National Synchrotron Diamond Light Source, who was formerly the Director of the ILL, said many of the facilities and their users mutually benefit each other:

“The UK science community is particularly fortunate in being both an Associate Member of ILL and owning STFC’s complementary ISIS Facility at Harwell, the best-performing spallation neutron facility in the world: together they offer a very broad spectrum of scientists the most incisive insights into structure and motion in materials where light elements such as hydrogen or lithium are key, as well as magnetism, engineering components and some of the most fundamental principles of physics”.

ILL’s ceremony

L-R: Brian Bowsher (Chief Executive of STFC), Emily Hamblin (Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Paris), Oliver Payne (Department Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and Jennifer Scratcher (STFC) pictured during today’s event in Grenoble.
(Credit: ILL)

Professor Andrew Harrison was one of many UK scientists and Directors to gather in Grenoble on 19 January for a ceremony celebrating ILL’s 50th anniversary. The UK delegation also included Dr Robert McGreevy, Director of the UK’s ISIS neutron source and STFC’s Executive Director of National labs, Dr Andrew Taylor.

Grahame Blair, STFC’s Executive Director of Programmes was also in attendance. He said:

“The ILL is an excellent example of the international collaboration the STFC strives for as part of its ethos. Today brings together experts from the field of neutron science; including those at the head of some of the World’s leading facilities, whose brilliant minds have brought us to where we are today and will no doubt continue to have a huge impact in the future as we move into another exciting era for science”.

Concluding his remarks, Professor Andrew Harrison said:

“The ILL at 50 is still the world-leading centre for science in its class, a truly remarkable achievement that is a testament to the excellent staff and user community, continued technical development and investment over the decades and the value of co-operation across European countries that is so much greater than the sum of the parts”.

Further information

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000