Facilitated cutting-edge facilities in Lund

On a flat piece of land a few kilometres north of Lund are two of the world’s foremost research facilities for studying the innermost secrets of matter. The MAX IV synchrotron light source is already in operation. The ESS neutron source will be launched in 2025. “They’re creating fantastic opportunities for Swedish research and industry,” says Lars Börjesson, Professor of Material Physics at Chalmers University of Technology and one of IVA’s 2021 Gold Medal recipients.

“We have tools and methods to study matter, surfaces and molecules with high precision that is not possible to do using other methods. This allows us to understand and customise materials to have the properties we want for things such as medicines, catalysts, batteries, fuel cells, hydrogen gas economy, wind power, electronics and more,” he says.

Börjesson’s own research focuses on how different types of materials function at the micro level – basic research that enables us to understand what gives materials certain properties at the macro level and then identify applications. In his work he has been using facilities similar to those in Lund in Europe since the 1990s. About half of the experiments were, for example, carried out in Grenoble and outside Oxford.

“I’ve pushed the boundaries for what those facilities can do for the research problems I’ve been interested in trying to solve. To advance further we need better tools – the next generation of facilities for neutron and synchrotron light sources. This will be possible at the facilities being built in Sweden.”

“Both of them are the most cutting edge of their type. ESS will be several times more powerful than the neutron source in Grenoble; 5–30 times depending on which instruments we’re comparing.”

MAX IV is the world’s most efficient source for X-ray light and is used for extremely detailed studies of things like molecules or matter. Researchers in Börjesson’s team have used the facilities to study materials for batteries etc. ESS, 700 metres away, will be used for neutrons to study the same matter.

“The two facilities provide complementary information. I myself have used both to study the same type of matter, for example to understand the mechanisms of ionic conduction in materials for batteries and fuel cells and for the fundamental properties of disordered materials such as glass and polymers”.

When studying neutrons, such as in ESS, we get information about the structure and dynamics of matter and molecules right down to the atomic level for all types of atoms, but hydrogen as well as magnetism are particularly easy to see. This provides unique opportunities to study things like energy systems where hydrogen is an important component, such as fuel cells, or the role of hydrogen bonds and water in molecular biological structures and processes, as well as new magnetic materials for things like sensors and microelectronics. 

Using MAX IV’s X-rays it’s also possible to detect atomic structures but with a different contrast than for neutrons, which gives us complementary images. But we can also see and measure details relating to electron structures and chemical bonds.

Lars Börjesson has had an important role to play in developing the facilities. He was Secretary General for Research Infrastructure at the Swedish Research Council when the proposal to build MAX IV was presented, and he led the negotiations that resulted in funding for the project from multiple stakeholders.

He was already conducting scientific studies around ESS back at the beginning of the 1990s to explore the possibility of using a stronger neutron source. He has taken part in negotiations involving representatives for various countries for Sweden to be the host country, because ESS, unlike MAX IV which is a Swedish facility, is run by a European consortium. He has served as chair of the European consortium for many years and is now the Swedish representative on the European board for ESS.

“There is still a lot of work to do. The pandemic has delayed construction. Much of the technical equipment is being produced in countries that have been locked down for a long time,” says Börjesson.

He says that there are many advantages with the facilities being located in Sweden.

“Proximity is important. They’re relatively accessible and that makes it easier to transport things to set up experiments. Sweden can also build knowledge clusters around the facilities.”

Lund University has already decided to move labs, instruction and research to the area directly adjacent to the research facilities. Research institutes and a number of companies are planning to establish research and development operations there. Vinnova has been tasked by the Government with creating a national technology park with regional nodes at several university towns for regional cooperation with the coordinated office at ESS and MAX IV, enabling the facilities to be used by researchers and companies throughout the country.

“To make the best possible use of the facilities, cooperation is important. Creating forms of collaboration is a learning process for research and industry.”

At similar facilities in other countries around 30 percent of the time is used by direct partnerships between academia and industry, 65 percent by academia and 5 percent by industry,” says Börjesson.

“One basic requirement for academia-industry collaboration is common ideas and methods to implement them, but to realise them it’s necessary to meet. ESS and MAX IV will be arenas where academia and industry can meet.” 

LARS BÖRJESSON

Age: 64

Education: MSc Engineering Physics, Chalmers University of Technology. Dissertation defended at Chalmers 1987.

Career: Associate Professor at Chalmers 1990. Professor at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) 1993. Professor of Material Physics Chalmers 1995. Secretary General for Research Infrastructure at the Swedish Research Council 2002–2010. Vice-Chancellor Chalmers 2012–2016.

Distinctions: Baltic Sea Award 2012. Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog 2020.

Other information: Chair of ESS Scandinavia 2000–2003. Member of the Board of Swedish-Danish ESS AB 2020–2015. Chair of ESS International Steering Committee 2009–2015 and the European organisation ESS ERIC 2015–2019. Chair MAX IV 2010–2013.

Professor Lars Börjesson is awarded the Academy’s Gold Medal for his outstanding innovative research in the physics of condensed materials and his innovative and dedicated leadership that has resulted in groundbreaking research infrastructure, in particular MAX IV and ESS, offering exceptional opportunities to learn about material properties that will be of great significance in future research and industry.