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Doctoral programme for innovators with X-rays and neutrons

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - InnovaXN (Doctoral programme for innovators with X-rays and neutrons)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-09-30

Researchers trained in advanced materials characterisation and capable of exploiting the facilities available at research infrastructures (RIs) are needed to bridge the knowledge gap between Europe’s world-leading RIs and industry. These select individuals should be highly-skilled entrepreneurs and communicators in addition to being innovative researchers. The InnovaXN programme aims to create such uniquely-skilled ambassadors to industry by recruiting and training 40 early-stage researchers (ESRs) who will carry out research on projects defined and realised in close collaboration with industry. The programme links the ESRF and ILL RIs with industry through 40 research projects. The subjects of these projects are within industry sectors such as advanced materials, pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies, catalysis and chemistry, metallurgy, aerospace and automotive, agriculture and food, consumer products. Industry stands to benefit from use of the advanced analytical techniques of the RIs. InnovaXN is a five-year programme. Research projects were harvested through an open ideation and codesign procedure with industry. Two recruitment calls were spaced twelve months apart. The duration of each ESR training period is typically 36 months, with registration of the ESRs at Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA), a partner of the project, or other collaborating European universities.

The programme is important for society because it creates young researchers who are experts in a variety of areas of research, with knowledge of the capabilities of the RIs, and who can link between industry, academia and the RIs. Their research demonstrates the use of the RIs analytical techniques to solve industrial challenges. In the long-term, the knowledge gained by the ESRs should increase collaboration between industry, academia and the RIs, providing a boost to European industry. The ESRs will be encouraged to present their research at conferences and other events, and to seek opportunities for pubic visibility of their research through outreach, either at in-person or virtual events, including sharing through social media.

The overall objectives of the InnovaXN programme are to recruit the best candidates from a worldwide student base, to host them at the ESRF and ILL and train them in industry relevant areas of research. InnovaXN is open to students from a wide range of disciplines including chemistry, life sciences (biochemistry, medicine), materials science, engineering, environmental science and physics. The ESRs will receive employment contracts at the ESRF or the ILL (each will recruit half of the students). The ESRs will be hosted in Grenoble at the EPN-Campus site for most of the duration of their research but for a period of secondment to the site of the industry partner of at least three months to gain experience of working in industry. The ESRs will also receive soft-skills training with an opening towards innovation. The programme will span Europe, with projects linking industry and universities from many countries.
Forty industry related PhD projects have been co-designed by the ESRF and ILL with partners in industry and academia. To date, thirty-eight ESRs have been recruited through two recruitment rounds spaced 12 months apart, in 2020 and 2021. During these recruitment rounds, 3325 applications were received. The applications were checked for eligibility and then ranked by an external body of experts. More than 150 candidates were interviewed. The ESRs are hosted by the ESRF and ILL, and will have a three-month secondment to industry. The cohort 1 ESRs have already followed many training courses relevant to their research areas and have attended additional soft-skills training, for example in leadership and team building. After 12 months of research, they are already able to present interesting research results and at least 10 of them have participated in events with external visibility such as conferences and workshops.
The ESRs receive unique training which prepares them to be ambassadors from the research infrastructures to industry helping to solve industry-relevant challenges within their projects. Following completion of their PhD’s, they will be able to seek jobs anywhere within the triangle of RIs, academia and industry, and their knowledge will be precious for encouraging future collaboration between the three domains.