19 January 2017
Fifty years of world-leading research is celebrated today as one of the UK’s major international research facilities marks a major milestone.
Since it was founded, on 19 January 1967, the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in France, which provides its users with a ‘giant microscope’, has welcomed scientists from 45 different countries. Between them they have conducted 40,000 experiments in fields ranging from engineering to Earth science, leading to more than 20,000 published papers.
One of the winners of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics, Duncan Haldane, whose work may help pave the way for quantum computers and other technologies, worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the ILL's theory group in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The UK has been pivotal to the neutron source’s success. It became one of three Associate Members of the ILL in 1973, joining partners France and Germany.
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:
“For the past four decades, the UK has played a key role in the research conducted at the ILL, helping improve our understanding of neutrons and materials and how we can use this knowledge to develop new fuels and radiotherapy techniques.
“While celebrating the past 50 years, we look forward to continuing our collaboration with our European partners. Our upcoming Industrial Strategy has science and innovation at its core and will ensure the UK is best placed to continue playing a leading role in scientific breakthroughs that improve millions of lives.”
The ILL remains at the forefront of neutron research as the world’s leader in the field. It can specifically tailor its beams of neutrons to probe the fundamental processes that help to explain how our universe came into being, why it looks the way it does today and how it can sustain life. Recent results from the facility range from gaining a greater understanding of the proteins involved in the HIV virus, to how bacteria from the Titanic wreck protect themselves.
More than a quarter of the total experiments at the ILL have been conducted by UK researchers. Through the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the UK continues to fund the ILL with an annual subscription that gives UK scientists access to the facility.
Joining a celebratory anniversary event in France today, with scientists and Directors from ILL’s past and present, as well as leaders from current and future neutron facilities, was the UK Ambassador to France, Rt Hon Lord Llewellyn OBE. He said:
UK Ambassador to France, Rt Hon Lord Llewellyn OBE addressing the attendees at today’s ILL 50 celebration
“The UK remains committed to international science and collaboration with its European partners. This commitment will continue now and in to the future, and we look forward to the world benefitting from many more years of cutting-edge research emanating from the ILL”.
In November, the Prime Minister committed an additional £2 billion per year for UK research and innovation by 2020/21.
STFC’s Chief Executive Brian Bowsher who himself spent time at the facility in the 1980s was part of the UK delegation in Grenoble today. He said:
“Alongside those of our partner countries, we can be immensely proud of the UK’s achievements at the ILL. From the sharing of our neutron scattering expertise in its early days to the pioneering work carried out by many, many scientists from all over the world since, it is wonderful to see the ILL continue to thrive since the early days when I was there. So much has changed, and yet the spirit, the team work, the international collaboration remains just as it was”.
Professor Bill Stirling is one of the UK scientists to have the longest standing relationships with the ILL. He took a job as an instrument scientist at the facility in Grenoble shortly after the UK joined the ILL, designing and building instruments, some of which are still in operation today.
He later went on to sit on a number of ILL advisory committees, before being appointed Director General of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in 2001 and later, the Director of ILL.
In a piece he submitted for inclusion in the ILL’s 50th anniversary book with colleague Joe Zaccai, he said:
“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”.
The UK delegation at the anniversary celebrations today also includes Grahame Blair, STFC’s Executive Director of Programmes, Professor Andrew Harrison, a former Director of the ILL and the current Director of the UK’s synchrotron, Diamond Light Source, as well as Dr Robert McGreevy, Director of the UK’s ISIS neutron source and STFC’s Executive Director of National labs, Dr Andrew Taylor.