New programme for Nordic neutron research

The European Spallation Source (ESS) is currently under construction in Lund and can begin working in 2019. To ensure that the Nordic region has well-trained researchers ready to begin using the highly advanced microscope, a joint Nordic programme for neutron research was initiated in 2015 by Denmark, Norway and Sweden together with NordForsk.

Fredrik Melander, chair of the programme committee, believes that Nordic cooperation in neutron research is a natural next step:

“Sweden and Denmark are host countries for the European Spallation Source (ESS), so it stands to reason that we – while the ESS is being built – establish a dynamic Nordic neutron research community in order to make the most of the facility once it is completed. We will have a strong, wide-ranging neutron research base, i.e., we will have many experts skilled in the use of use neutron research techniques in the core areas of neutron research (physics) as well as in other fields of relevance within the research community. Dynamic networks have already been established between Nordic research groups. They are small and highly specialised. It is clear that we have a sound platform on which to build. I hope it will not be limited to Nordic cooperation, but that is where we are beginning. The Nordic countries have so very much in common that there is consensus that we can turn this into a broader collaboration.”

Focus on competence-building

“Our long-term vision is to see the Nordic region become a hub for, and world-leader in, materials research.” Fredrik Melander 

“The programme’s focus on increasing our research capacity, especially at the doctoral and post-doctoral levels, is absolutely fundamental. We would like to create a new generation of Nordic instrument scientists who can become key ESS personnel in the future. Another important focus area is on how to encourage other researchers in other subject areas, such as medicin and life sciences, to apply neutron techniques,” explains Fredrik Melander. He adds:

“The combination of strong political backing, widespread approval among Nordic universities, significant overall support within the research community and scientific prioritisation among the research councils is a major strength of the programme, and generates unique opportunities for new research cooperation. All the involved actors are working together very constructively and we intend to expand upon this. One of the short-term challenges we face is how to promote participation of all the Nordic countries. Neutron research has been strongest in Sweden, Denmark and, to a certain extent, in Norway, but regrettably, Finland and Iceland are not yet involved in the programme. Fortunately, they are participating as observers and can keep themselves apprised of developments in this way. Of course, we hope to be able to support the small-scale neutron research circles found in both these countries so we can in the long term support developments throughout the entire Nordic region.”

Programme committee and reference group

The NordForsk board has appointed a programme committee comprising representatives of the participating funding organisations in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, with Finland and Iceland taking part as observers. Fredrik Melander says, “The programme committee is not comprised of neutron researchers; we represent the research funding side. We also have a scientific reference group, which can provide us with scientific guidance. Here we find the user organisations that collectively represent neutron and synchrotron research overall. These encompass the Danish Neutron Scattering Society (DANSSK), the Swedish Neutron Scattering Society (SNSS) and the Norwegian Neutron Scattering Association (NoNSA). These national organisations represent the research groups, which is why the programme committee has ongoing contact with them as the programme evolves. We also invite researchers with a little broader range of backgrounds to take part in the reference group. The groups are small enough to allow us to get together and hear what they have to say. We can use them as a sounding board for proposed programme activities.”

“One challenge facing the programme is the planned introduction of other initiatives and activities in this area in years to come in these countries. As a financing actor, we need to keep up to date to ensure productive interaction with the various programmes, avoid duplicating activities and foster positive synergies between the programmes. In other words, one of the tasks of the programme committee is making sure that the different pieces of the puzzle fit together,” Mr Melander explains.

Nordic neutron projects in 2016

“I hope we will see two types of results from the programme: for one, structural results in the form of organised cooperation between research and educational groups. Towards this end, we have issued calls for NordForsk projects aimed at developing and coordinating a wide array of Nordic researcher training school activities and supporting networks in order to take advantage of the particular strengths at different universities. The second type of result we are seeking is specific project cooperation – pure and simple collaboration between researchers. The ESS will entail major research and industrial potential. We will see everything from new medications to wind turbine blades composed of new materials. Our long-term vision is to see the Nordic region become a hub for, and world-leader in, materials research.”

Fredrik MelanderIn conclusion, Fredrik Melander says, “The programme committee also focuses on innovation. One aspect of development involves links with industry. The entire field of materials research is closely linked to industrial development, and there are major industrial opportunities. Expanding research capacity within neutron research will yield very interesting results for industry because we can help to ensure a greater number of materials researchers in the industrial sector. I believe there is tremendous potential in a Nordic-level approach where we can create closer ties both between researchers and between researchers and industry throughout the Nordic region. We will be studying this more closely as the programme progresses.” 


Fredrik Melander is a senior adviser at the Ministry of Higher Education and Science in Denmark and chair of the Joint Nordic programme for neutron research.  


Text: Linn Hoff Jensen

Photo: NordForsk/Terje Heiestad