EU tour: promoting European light sources

Fig.: already visited (lime) and planned visits (turquoise)

Synchrotrons are outstanding tools for studying materials, cells and even cultural assets. Yet, many researchers in Eastern Europe are unaware that they are entitled to use them. That should soon change.

In October 2017, Beatrix Seidlhofer and Antje Vollmer from the User Coordination department packed their bags and headed off. Nothing unusual for these two, who are often away on some business or other. Most trips take them to Western, Northern or Southern Europe, but this time they were off to Romania. The country joined the EU ten years ago, but is still one of the poorest Member States of Europe. The gross domestic product of Romania is only 8,600 euros per capita, compared with Germany’s 38,000 euros per capita.

“Education and research could pave a way to a better future. That was our very purpose for going there. We wanted to let our Romanian colleagues know what opportunities they have to use the European light sources, and that they can receive subsidies for conducting their experiments there,” Beatrix Seidlhofer says.

This subsidisation is offered through the EU project CALIPSPOplus. It is aimed at promoting the international exchange of scientists and transnational access to the light sources in Europe. The EU has set up a budget of ten million euros for this. The subsidies not only help to cover the instrument costs on business trips. A special twinning programme is also set up so that Eastern European researchers can be supervised and instructed by experienced experts at the light sources. “These are great opportunities which we want to actively promote in the new EU States,” says Head of User Coordination Dr. Antje Vollmer. She coordinates the HZB-run twinning programme in the scope of CALIPSOplus.

And so the two HZB colleagues travelled to Romania to advertise the European light sources to researchers at two universities and two institutes. They talked with them about their work and what kind of instrument time they wished for. “Research in Romania is very up to date and innovative. There are several groups researching solar cells, for example. And we learned of interesting projects in microbiology, magnetism and even bionics,” Seidlhofer recounts. “But almost nobody was aware that measuring time at BESSY II and other light sources in Europe is free for universities.” This news naturally went down very well, and some researchers even wished to apply for instrument time on the spot.

In the university city Timişoara in the west of the country, Beatrix Seidlhofer, who incidentally speaks Romanian very well, held a lecture for high-school graduates. “In Romania, ever fewer school-leavers are opting for the natural sciences. So, I was asked to talk with school graduates at the university to get them interested in physics.” At the end of the lecture, the students not only asked many questions; they even gave a standing ovation.

Five days later, their round trip was over. The resonance of their tour is still being felt not only in Romania, but also in Berlin. “The first visit within the CALIPSOplus twinning programme showed us how important it is to make personal contacts. There are many talented people in the new EU Member States, all brimming with ideas and building sophisticated instruments on a small budget,” says Beatrix Seidlhofer. They intend to continue their tour in 2018 as well. Next stops: Bulgaria, Hungary and Portugal.