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International committee published the evaluation of the SPL-MSB

Hodnoceni_SPLMSB.png (88 KB)

Overall outcomes and recommendations of the evaluation

The Surface Physics Laboratory-Materials Science Beamline at Elettra (SPL-MSB) provides on the SPL side up-to-date instrumentation to investigate problems in surface related scientific projects. Both teams in SPL and MSB have an excellent background in surface science, and in particular surface reactivity with respect to catalysis, electrochemistry and gas sensors. The SPL-MSB is a well-established LRI, with a long history that has allowed its incorporation within the high reputation CERIC-ERIC international consortium. This situation largely facilitates its operation, since proposals are centrally received, evaluated and processed, even providing joint service from multiple LRIs. Additionally, the membership to both CERIC-ERIC and Elettra also provides a wide visibility at the international level, therefore attracting high level projects that in turn improve the attraction of other users.

The scientific output can be considered of high quality, with a high number of both internal and users’ publications, partly in top journals and some making a high impact. Some of the results were also protected in the form of patents. Despite the high benefit for the scientific community, the LRI is still considered to be a rather small entity with a moderate budget, which is efficiently managed to secure operation and a high productivity.

An important role is played by the NAPXPS activities which provide access to operando studies. The plan is to include in 2021 another NAPXPS-environmental instrument allowing for very short loading to measurement times and a variety of applications. Also, a new MSB line is foreseen to be adapted to the upgrade of Elettra. The activities on ceria-based systems both in catalysis and electrocatalysis, in particular the fuel cell research, are spectacular and unique. There are also very interesting projects dealing with photonic crystals and within other areas of catalysis. The studies on single Pt atoms ceria-based catalysts are a stepping stone towards ways of reducing the consumption of scarce resources (precious metals). In general, the activities on electrochemistry, in particular with respect to hydrogen technology are of high significance. Hydrogen based technologies are a central area for future developments all over the world. SPL-MSB has set up research plans to address this area both with respect to basic research as well as to aspects of technological developments. By exploring a well-known basic strategy on thin film preparation, including the deposition and incorporation of metal atoms and aggregates with the application of such systems in real catalysis, novel projects addressing the industrial community’s needs may be created. The financial aspects of the operation are balanced and also the planned investment is necessary and well thought through.

Overall, this is a truly excellent centre with a history of impactful science. The quality and quantity of resulting scientific publications that were achieved in the last period is truly impressive. The user base is highly international, and many of the best researchers in the field have made use of the facility.

There are no real weaknesses in the program, but it must be assured that the financing is stable over longer period of times, so as ensure in-house as well as external user operations and proper time to plan ahead.

Recommendations for the future

1) While the LRI is tightly integrated in the international research community, and has its well-deserved prime spot there, the interaction with other Czech institutions could be expanded. This concerns especially other LRIs that have similar technical capabilities, albeit a somewhat different research focus. Here a closer interaction could be beneficial for the overall programme.

2) The panel fully supports the expansion by the Hydrogen Technology Centre. With the already accumulated, this provides a great opportunity not only for the LRI but Czechia as a whole to become an innovation leader in this highly important area. One recommendation would be to re-think whether fully relying on the scientific advisory capacity of CERIC-ERIC will be sufficient when the HTC will be operational. Another recommendation would be to think about other long-term developments, in addition to the HTC.

3) Both the open access system and the e-infrastructure are also established through the facilities implemented at the CERIC-ERIC consortium, but a word of caution is given here, regarding potentially excessive dependence on external resources, with the corresponding lack of internal control. Although the SPL-MSB personnel has actively participated in workshops and training activities, as well as organization of open days, a more significant effort in this direction would be welcome, in particular regarding the use of novel social media tools. Connections to the local industry should be reinforced, with active targeting rather than relying on the installation of new facilities as an automatic attraction element.

Overall grade: 5 – Excellent