The Twinning programme was tailored aiming at widening the access of European researchers to the synchrotrons and FELs partners in the CALIPSOplus consortium. In the programme, potential users without any previous light source experience are partnered with host groups that share their know-how and expertise in applying the available experimental techniques to common research areas. To maximize impact and leverage access to excellent facilities, target countries were identified. These were selected based on their low representation in international user communities of light sources – which coincides largely with EU-13 countries (the group of member states joining the European Union since 2004) and with those without own light source.
The first step in engaging new users had to be to let them know about the facilities available to them. This is better done in loco and Romania was the first destination. Romania joined the European Union in 2007, making it an EU-13 country. With a GDP of €8 600 (for comparison, Germany’s GDP is currently €38 000), it still counts as one of EU’s poorest member states. A better future can be achieved through education and research and so we went on the road in October 2017. We wanted to tell our Romanian colleagues about the different possibilities that European light sources offer to their research, and about which funding possibilities they could apply for. Hardly any of them were aware that the use of the facilities is free of charge for University researchers, nor did they know that there were funding possibilities available to cover related costs (generally travel and accommodation). At BESSY II, the synchrotron facility of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB), e.g. two of the users may receive financial support for the measurement time.
CALIPSOplus and the Twinning Programme
During our visit to several Romanian Universities, Antje Vollmer, who leads the User Coordination office at HZB, presented the European light source landscape, CALIPSOplus, and the Twinning Programme. After the presentation, we had the opportunity to visit different departments and to have small chats with the scientists about their research and their specific needs for the partnering programme.
In general, the information was received with enthusiasm and great interest. Some colleagues from Romania were even already prepared to submit a beamtime proposal while in parallel participating in the Twinning Programme, wanting to benefit from a hands-on introduction to synchrotron-based experiments. Among them was Nicolae Leopold, a young Associated Professor at the Faculty of Physics of the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, and his wife Dr. Loredana Leopold, from the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Cluj-Napoca. Both applied for a place as Twinning Guests, four months after our visit, and became the first Twinning guests of the programme.
The challenge – Before Beamtime
A challenge we experienced was finding a fitting host user group with beamtime at one of the facilities that was also willing to take part in the CALIPSOplus project. Although many colleagues already registered to become Twinning Hosts and agreed to help, the research areas are very diverse and one needs a very good overview of all light sources in Europe, their beamlines and main research subjects, in order to make good scientific matches. After talking to several colleagues, we finally managed to find a proper beamline and host at BESSY II in Berlin, the U49-2_PGM-1/SOL3PES beamline/station. Dr. Robert Seidel was Station Scientist as well as host.
Let’s hear from the Twinning Team – the interviews
Interview with the first Twinning guest, Dr. Nicolae Leopold
Here’s an edited interview with the first Twinning guest, Dr. Nicolae Leopold aka Miki (NL) performed by a local CALIPSOplus contact at BESSY II, Beatrix-Kamelia Seidlhofer (BS)
BS: Dear Miki, thank you so much for agreeing to have this small interview with me for our article! Your feedback surely will help us to improve the process of “twinning scientists”. To start us off, please tell me, what did you think about our information event at your university?
NL: It was great, we got an overview of your program, and we could understand what it is all about. The talks and chats afterwards were very important to learn more about the details. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the light source landscape in Europe, especially for people who are not from this research field. People from the synchrotron community already know where to go if they need additional experiments with synchrotron light, but not us newcomers.
BS: It took quite a while until you officially applied for a Twinning Guest beamtime.
NL: Yes, even though we had your informative visit, it was not clear that we had to sign in for that.
BS: Oh, good point! We should go more into detail next time. However, you applied and after some time we were able to find a host group for you.
NL: That is true! But this was only the beginning…
BS: Yes, the radiation passport! I remember that.
NL: It was quite difficult and without your help we wouldn’t have made it.
BS: Well, sometimes one just needs to call people and annoy them until one reaches something.
NL: But it worked, we were able to come and take part in the beamtime of Robert [Seidel].
BS: The next thing you had to do was to create an account in our facility portal and prepare everything for your stay. How was your experience with the procedure? Is there anything we could improve?
NL: It was quite intuitive and the person at the front desk was very helpful and friendly. After the issue with the radiation passport, everything went smoothly.
BS: I’m happy to hear that, I will tell my colleague about your impression.
NL: Only one small improvement, it was not clear that we had to submit also the boarding passess together with the original receipts for the reimbursement.
BS: Hum, ok. We will make the conditions clearer on our CALIPSOplus webpage, thank you for pointing it out. So, the rest went fine and you finally arrived at BESSY. I’m so sad I haven’t been around because of a conference. Nevertheless, you surely met a lot of people.
NL: Yes, I met of course my group and the one of my wife* from the Microscopy beamline. I also met some people from the BAM [Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing] at the User Coffee**. It’s really interesting what they are doing at the BAMline, it might be a good choice for one of my other projects with levitating droplets.
BS: That sounds interesting, please do not hesitate to submit a proposal. Or talk to the beamline scientists, maybe they can help you with preliminary experiments etc. But now, back to the beamtime you had. How was it? Did you learn something new besides how to handle the bureaucratic difficulties?
NL: It was awesome, scientifically highly interesting even though it was not 100% my topic. Robert is an amazing scientist and so young! He works a lot during the beamtime, he was there almost all the time to react in case something went wrong. There was also a lot of hands-on training, I liked that. I learned a lot during that time.
BS: Oh, wow, I’m again glad to hear that. I will forward the compliments to Robert. So it was a good opportunity for you to learn new things, but as I understood, the method is not really optimal for your actual scientific case.
NL: Unfortunately not. I will first use conventional methods like XPS at home and do some preliminary tests before applying for beamtime. However, I got some nice ideas for new research projects. Again, after some preliminary tests I will definitely submit a proposal at one of the light sources presented by you.
BS: That would be great. So we can summarize, you learned a lot during that week and got new and exciting ideas. This is what we hoped would happen.
NL: Yes, there are so many different scientific topics people work on at synchrotrons and we could learn more about some of them at BESSY. In total, I can say that it was an immense accumulation of knowledge. Thank you for that!
Interview with the host, Dr. Robert Seidel
And now the host, Dr. Robert Seidel (RS):
BS: Dear Robert, thank you so much for your help, it is very much appreciated! I would also like to ask you, how was your experience with the Twinning Programme?
RS: Nicolae is an experienced researcher, one could see that. But he is new in this field [synchrotron-based research], so I think it was a great opportunity for him to gain more knowledge.
BS: That is true, he mentioned that as well. How was the beamtime for you?
RS: Nicolae helped a lot and had many questions about the method and techniques. But he also had a very sensible feeling for the moments when it is ok to ask questions and when not. Sometimes it is very stressful and hectic and it is important to concentrate, questions could distract. Such users/guests are the most welcome ones.
BS: Yes, that is true! Do you also have something we could improve?
RS: From my point of view it is not necessary to let them come for the whole week, two days would be definitely enough to understand the method. I would rather let them assist at several different experiments and stations instead of one for the whole week.
BS: I will forward you opinion to the people in charge for this project, thank you for your help and feedback!
Indispensable: Personal contact
This first visit as part of the CALIPSOplus Twinning Program showed us how important it is to contact colleagues at their own Institutes. It is crucial to be there in person to be able to properly convey the goals of the project and answer questions on the spot that would not otherwise be asked. Discussing possible cooperation opportunities and EU-wide available infrastructure is best done face-to-face. As is a friendly invitation to one of the partner facilities for a hands-on training. A contact person during the proposal and beamtime process is irreplaceable as well, especially for unexperienced users. Administrative but also scientific or technical difficulties could hinder them in ever starting their way in synchrotron-based research. Countries like Romania have many talented people, who are full of ideas and are sometimes only lacking the means to move their research further. Exchange programmes as this one provide the means and most importantly spread information on what is available for all within our European Research Infrastructures, providing that sometimes only incremental push necessary to sparkle a new scientific project or foster tighter scientific collaborations.
* Dr. Loredana Leopold, who was having her Twinning stay at the same time at BESSY II.
** At BESSY II, we invite our users and HZB staff for coffee and a chat from time to time on Fridays.
Text & Interview: BS & AA
Photo: Nicolae Leopold & Robert Seidel