Advancing synchrotron-based techniques for research cooperation with industry partners

Simone Pauling
Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences

Henning Lichtenberg
Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences

Josef Hormes
University of Bonn

Jost Goettert
Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences

Synchrotron radiation-based techniques are often regarded as very fundamental and resource-intensive research tools, which are applicable for solving fundamental research questions by a user community representing universities and research institutions. However, many of the techniques and especially X-Ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) offers unique opportunities for applied industrial research projects, providing valuable answers to practical R&D questions and thus potentially boosting innovation. For synchrotron facilities, cooperation with industry partners is at the same time extremely interesting and very challenging, due to the specific needs of this group of user community. While users from universities and research institutions usually plan the experiments, analyse and interpret the data, cooperation partners from industry and especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) might not even have their own R&D Department. In these cases, experienced staff must be available at the synchrotron facility that understand the real, underlying problem of the industry customers to provide a solution for the R&D question at hand. Successful cooperation includes planning and implementing the experiments as well as data analysis and interpretation. Moreover, cooperation with industry partners often needs a flexible approach with shorter deadlines. Altogether, this requires specific skills of the synchrotron staff with regard to e.g. flexibility, communication and commercial understanding. At the same time, cooperation in these applied research projects offers interesting opportunities for training young researchers.
In order to master the above described challenges, the young Polish synchrotron light source SOLARIS has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hochschule Niederrhein – University of Applied Sciences (HN) in Krefeld, Germany, in 2018 with the aim to build a joint XAS beamline for industrial and academic users in 2020. In this partnership, expertise in synchrotron-based techniques is coupled with vast experience in successfully performing applied research projects with partners from industry. The XAS-beamline offers research opportunities for (PhD)-students from both institutions implementing research in direct collaboration with partners form (local) industry and especially SMEs for SOLARIS.
In order to strengthen this partnership, SOLARIS has submitted an EU twinning proposal together with HN, the University of Bonn and the synchrotron lightsource ALBA in Barcelona. The experienced partners in the consortium support SOLARIS in building-up R&D and networking capabilities, to foster successful industry cooperation. New industry cooperation avenues with the pharmaceutical-, rubber-, agro-, (micro-) biological, chemical- and cosmetics-sectors will be consequently opened. SOLARIS builds up an industry-liaison office with staff dedicated to networking and cooperating with industry partners. This dedicated staff will be enrolled in a twinning and training program at the premises of the experienced partners to enhance the knowledge on industry research project management, innovation transfer, proposal preparation, legal aspects and intellectual property rights. Moreover, industry workshops are held at SOLARIS where successful industry representatives and partners of HN will showcase their synchrotron-based innovations as examples for interested enterprises. A summer school on science management for early stage researches provides insights to young scientists into the opportunities and specific challenges of applied research with industry cooperation, thus offering unique assets for their career and the synchrotron community. In the course of the project SOLARIS is not only embedded into the European synchrotron community, but the network will be further extended to synchrotron facilities in Thailand and Canada, likewise focusing their efforts on cooperation with partners from industry and especially SMEs. Altogether, the project provides unique opportunities for transferring fundamental research techniques to industry innovation projects, enhancing the European research-industry cooperation as well as attracting and training young scientists in applied research projects.