Ons 29 maj / År 42 / Nr 1 2024

The life science perspective of ESS

The European Spallation Source (ESS) is one of the largest science and technology infrastructure projects being built today. In the context of its history and future, ESS is to be regarded as far more than an advanced research tool. It is a brand new organisation for research and development based on the world’s most powerful neutron source.

Southern Sweden and Denmark constitute one of the largest life science clusters in Europe. The region is distinguished by a long line of impressive collaboration activities between companies of all sizes. This creative environment is deeply enhanced by the building of ESS, a multi-disciplinary research centre based on the world’s most powerful neutron source.
This new facility will be around 30 times brighter than today’s leading facilities, enabling new opportunities for researchers in the fields of life sciences, energy, environmental technology, cultural heritage and fundamental physics.

Impressive capacity at ESS
Europe’s need for an advanced, high-power neutron facility was articulated 20 years ago. In 2011, 17 partner nations signed an agreement on building the ESS with Sweden and Denmark as host nations. The ESS facility is now as a result of the agreement being built in Lund, whilst the ESS Data Management and Software Centre Centre will be located in Copenhagen. Up to 3,000 guest researchers will carry out experiments at ESS each year. Most of the users will be based at European universities and institutes, but some also within industry.
The ESS research programme is being planned now. Scientists and engineers from more than 60 partner laboratories are working on updating and optimising the advanced technical design of the ESS facility, and at the same time are exploring and imagining how it will be used. These partner laboratories, universities and research institutes also take part in the construction phase, contributing human resources, knowledge, equipment, and financial support.
The facility design and construction includes a linear proton accelerator, a heavy-metal target station, a large array of state-of-the-art neutron instruments, a suite of laboratories, and a supercomputing data management and software development center.

The life science perspective
Neutrons are excellent for probing materials on the molecular level – everything from motors and medicine, to plastics and proteins. Detailed studies are dependent on how many neutrons can be produced by a neutron source. ESS will provide around 30 times brighter neutron beams than existing facilities today.
Research using neutrons is particularly suitable when sampling sensitive materials, such as living cells, which are easily damaged when other measurement techniques are used. This is also the only method with which the researcher can study individual hydrogen atoms, which play a particularly important role in biological systems.
With ESS, researchers can in future for example closely investigate the DNA molecules and proteins that control aging and cancer as well as gain extended insight in how the skeleton is built up during childhood and how osteoporosis cause it to deteriorate. The technologies provided by ESS will help researchers understand organ and bodily functions like muscles, teeth and digestion far better than today, also making it easier to construct better medical implants that are more durable and entirely bio-compatible.
These are just a few examples. New knowledge will make it possible to develop new techniques and more effective treatments and medicines.