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Proof’s French Connection

by AprilSix Proof

“Yes Monsieur Romero, your room is here on the system. But Monsieur Amit – I’m afraid that we don’t seem to have yours.”

There are certain words you are happy to hear from a hotel receptionist. ‘Room’ is one of them. ‘Have’ is another. ‘Don’t’ can also be a good one, so long as it is immediately followed by ‘worry about a thing’ or ‘forget your complimentary iPhone 6.’

As with so much else in the business of communication, the ordering of information is key.

On this particular occasion, at half past one in the morning somewhere in the middle of Grenoble, the hotel receptionist got the ordering badly wrong.

My colleague James Romero and I had arrived in Grenoble to prepare for a day’s worth of meetings at the Institut Laue-Langevin, the global centre for neutron science and one of Proof’s oldest and most prestigious clients.

We had caught the delayed 1733 Thameslink from Farringdon, the 1945 Easyjet flight from London Gatwick, the 2330 coach from Lyon Sant-Exupery airport, and a taxi at around about midnight from Grenoble city centre. We were hot, tired, and in no mood to be told to bunk up.

Fortunately, our well-known powers of negotiation won out. Sometimes the choice and volume of words can be just as effective as their order.

The next morning, we were sufficiently well-rested to take advantage of the unique opportunity at our disposal: a full day’s worth of meetings with some of the world’s foremost neutron scientists and instrument technicians.

Over the course of 15 meetings split across Monsieur Romero and myself, we were able to get a small taste of the breadth of research undertaken at the ILL – still the world’s most powerful neutron source after forty years of continuous operation. Owing to their size and magnetic spin, neutrons are an important tool in allowing scientists to see into the heart of matter. They play a crucial role in imaging experiments of all kinds, and the ILL’s international reputation means researchers from around the globe flock to Grenoble for a few precious hours of access to the facility.

From investigating archaeological artefacts to analysing the structure of nerve endings, and from the study of solid fuel cells to the development of lithium batteries, there is virtually no area of modern science where neutron imaging has not had an impact.

Over lunch with the ILL’s three directors, we were also able to observe firsthand the Institute’s unique international structure. Since the UK joined France and Germany as one of the ILL’s three major partners in 1973, the directorship has always been made up of representatives from those three countries. Scientists from some 40 additional countries come to Grenoble every year, and with the addition of India as the ILL’s 15th scientific partner, the facility’s international reputation is well established.

Our visit, brief though it was, gave us plenty to think about that evening on the journey home. Given the quality of research we uncovered, you can expect to be hearing a lot more about the ILL over the coming months – and the contribution that neutron scattering has to make in every area of science.

James and I are already looking forward to sharing that research with you all. From our distinct and entirely separate desks.

– Gilead Amit