How to Select Brilliant Beamtime Proposals

How to Select Brilliant Beamtime Proposals

image: (from left) PAC members Charlotte Sanders and Jill Miwa on a break from discussing beamtime proposals.

The MAX IV Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) met from 31 October through the first week of November to discuss beamtime proposals submitted during the August call for general users.

The MAX IV User Office holds PAC meetings on a biannual basis, with committee members representing a wide array of scientific disciplines and expertise in their respective field. These experts are invited to evaluate beamtime proposals following the most recent open calls. To put this work in perspective, about 450 proposals were submitted in 2019.

Two committee members spoke with us about their experiences, what they do, and what shapes the decision-making process for proposal evaluations during PAC sessions.


Charlotte Sanders — Senior Experimental Scientist with condensed matter physics at the Artemis Facility, U.K. Central Laser Facility, STFC

Please describe the activities at the PAC meeting.

Before the PAC meeting, the proposals that have been submitted for experiments at MAX IV are divided up among the committee members, and each of us receives our set to review.  We read these on our own and send our comments and initial impressions to the meeting organizers.  At the time of the meeting, we gather in person to discuss the proposals on the basis of their scientific merit, their fundamental or technological interest, and the likelihood of their experimental success.  In each case, we decide whether or not to recommend that the facility invite the researchers to come to MAX IV to carry out the project they have proposed.

How do you decide which scientific proposals will be allotted beamtime?

People propose many different kinds of work, on various topics, with various levels of difficulty. It’s important for the facility to have a good mix of projects, and for the projects that are granted beamtime to have strong scientific merit.  Proposed work should be novel and interesting and should raise questions that can be answered in a meaningful way using the tools of the facility within the time that is available.  Of course, often there are more good proposals than can be accommodated, and then the choice is extremely difficult:  the committee might need to debate at length to come to an agreement about which proposals to recommend.


Jill Miwa — Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Aarhus University, Denmark.

Is there anything you liked or disliked about the meetings in particular?

The PAC meetings are an enjoyable experience! We specifically discuss the scientific excellence and feasibility of the proposals and provide recommendations for which proposals should be awarded beamtime for the next experimental period. Evaluating proposals relies on the peer review process so I think the PAC is a way for me to give back to the synchrotron community.

How did you find the process and logistics of the meetings?

I really enjoy the process and activities of the meetings! It’s a great way to stay on top of the field and get an idea of research directions at synchrotron facilities. The PAC meetings also provide an opportunity to meet other researchers to discuss scientific problems in our areas of research and related fields.