ESUO is pleased to acknowledge the submission and funding of a project proposal in response to the published Horizon Europe call HORIZON-INFRA-2023-SERV-01-03 call on “Research infrastructure services advancing frontier knowledge: co-fund pilots with pan-European RIs and/or national RIs”.
This is the NEPHEWS proposal – an acronym standing for Neutrons and Photons Elevating Worldwide Science – and involved cooperation between 21 synchrotron, FEL and neutron research infrastructures, led in this cooperation by the coordinators at the SOLARIS synchrotron. ESUO and our sister organisation for European neutron users, the European Neutron Scattering Association (ENSA) are directly involved. The principal synchrotron and free-electron laser RI of the League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources (LEAPS) consortium are involved as are many of the advanced neutron facilities in the League of European advanced Neutron Sources (LENS) consortium.
An overview is shown graphically in the figure below.
As previously advised to ESUO delegates, the Horizon Europe call on “advancing frontier knowledge” was a novel instrument that offered “curiosity-driven transnational access (TNA) funding” through a co-funding scheme. Curiosity-driven TNA has been identified by ESUO delegates of all nations at our previous General Assembly in 2022 as being the key issue for many nations communities in order to utilise the open access that is in principle available to users at the open nationally funded LEAPS RI.
The NEPHEWS proposal is unique in many respects:
- It is a User driven proposal, and brings together the two “photon” and “neutron” European users organisations of the “PaN” research infrastructure facilities ESUO and ENSA.
- It brings together the LEAPS and LENS RI in a broad combined access programme for excellent curiosity driven science for the first time.
- It seeks to broadens the use of the PaN RI opening these to new users, new and less well supported user communities and will do so through specific outreach and twinning opportunities for users new to techniques as well as early stage researchers.
- It seeks to make progress towards policy impact to advocate for nationally funded programs to help scientists access extra-national open RI facilities in other countries, when funding of the users travel and subsistence is an issue.
The outcome of the proposal became known in July 2023. The NEPHEWS will run for three years and offer funded trans-national access (TNA) for a minimum of 451 experiments or 902 users for curiosity-driven research. This TNA access will be to 16 facilities: 8 synchrotrons, 5 FELs and 3 neutron sources for users “irrespective of location” – the last phrase being one of the expected outcomes of the call. In addition, the NEPHEWS project will place an emphasis on supports for new users and non-expert new user groups in training available to all, and on twinning with the intention of breaking down barriers to access these RI. Twinning, introduced in CALIPSOplus, allows for new users to be guests in experiments with a hosting expert user group during that host groups experiment, and allow for the new guest user to gain hands-on experience, training and knowledge in the scientific methods relevant to their desired future investigations and this twinning experience would thus significantly reduce their barriers to successfully obtaining their own beamtime through their own proposal submissions. There will be 135 twinning actions in NEPHEWS, and twinning will occur at all facilities, those offering TNA and in addition twinning will also occur at facilities not offering TNA including the EuXFEL and the three larger neutron facilities ILL, ISIS and SINQ. Twinning will also be available to all new users irrespective of location but it should be noted that NEPHEWS, like CALIPSOplus, will target twinning supports to users in the Widening countries, those countries without such Research Infrastructures and specifically also users from Ukraine. Additional outreach events and outreach campaigns will be planned in a selection of these countries and ESUO (and ENSA) national delegates in these countries will be expected to play a key role in these plans. Further, similar training and outreach as well as twinning opportunities will be offered to potential new users and established scientists in regions in Africa.
NEPHEWS is also tasked to answer, as all respondents to the HORIZON-INFRA-2023-SERV-01-03 call were to do, on how a “transformational change” could occur in facilitating wider user access to these RI. This for ESUO and for ENSA entails all of the above, but also for our constituent national user communities a transformation in the existence of nationally funded TNA programmes i.e. for national users of any given country to access RI external to their country and be funded through national funds. Such a nationally funded programme currently exists – to our knowledge and from your ESUO delegate presentations in August 2022 at our 18th GA – in only one country in Europe, Denmark via DanScatt. Thus NEPHEWS is intended to be a platform for advocating such nationally funded access programmes in a selection of Widening countries and countries without RI, but more importantly NEPHEWS is intended to provide the usage data, user metrics, demographics and economic and scientific benefits and merits of sustained access to enable all national user communities to make these policy arguments by national scientific communities to your own national funding agencies.
NEPHEWS is presented as being unique in such Infrastructure proposals for TNA provision as being a User-driven proposal. That is very much the case here with ESUO and ENSA playing leading roles in the preparation of the proposal, the document and the strategies. and SOLARIS in gathering together the consortium.
This has been a very real partnership with the Users Organisations (ESUO and ENSA) and with the SOLARIS management team in the strategy, preparing and of submitting the proposal and in gathering together the consortium. The ESUO executive specifically want to thank and acknowledge the work of the SOLARIS management and the coordinators team of Michał Młynarczyk and Piotr Piwowarczyk without whom none of this could have happened.
There is also a long list to thank starting with the LEAPS and LENS consortia, the administrative support for ESUO provided by LEAPS, and of the many other contributors from all the facilities, from ENSA and especially from my own viewpoint within the ESUO executive who have contributed greatly. For myself, I must also thank the Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Prof. Linda Doyle, head of my own university, as the ESUO and ENSA actions in NEPHEWS will take place through person-months allocated to Trinity College Dublin and the Provost has been exceptional in her support of the proposal.
NEPHEWS is not a panacea and even if funded will only begin in 2024. The requirements for TNA funding is now and we have not yet delivered on that. Even with NEPHEWS being funded, the breadth of the actions and of the number of facilities involved, and especially of the Co-funding requirement does mean that the available funding is spread further and wider. Thus, it is not at the same level of TNA funding as had been the case in CALIPSOplus or earlier integrating activity projects funding TNA.
NEPHEWS, in our view by its submission and its stated purpose, is a real signal of intent on behalf of the European user communities of synchrotron, FEL and neutron facilities that sustainable user access is needed for all users in all nations. This message, already known by the Commission who drafted this call, as well as ESFRI via their Stakeholders forum, can be delivered to a wider audience inclusive of national funding authorities in terms of future policy advocacy.
– Cormac McGuinness, ESUO President