Writing a beam time proposal for ISIS

How to increase your success of getting beam time

Proposal workflow

Proposal workflow
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Beam time allocations at ISIS are highly prized and in great demand. A clearly written proposal for an experiment at ISIS can set you apart from the crowd and greatly increase the chances that the Facility Access Panels will recommend you get allocated beam time. We give you hints and tips on writing the perfect proposal.

Initial discussions

“Always talk to an instrument scientist to accurately assess the time needed and discuss experiment feasibility” – Sarah Hainsworth, Univesity of Leicester

Before you write your proposal, we advise you to contact ISIS instrument scientists to talk about your experiments. They can help you to decide on the most suitable instrument and the amount of time you will need.  If you are submitting a Rapid Access or Xpress Access proposal, it is essential to discuss this with the relevant ISIS scientist before submission.

Note that not all sample environment equipment is available for all instruments and it is advisable to check your requirements with the sample environment team or instrument scientists.

If you are an undergraduate student, your academic supervisor must be listed as the principal investigator on the proposal.

Science case

At the heart of your proposal is a science case. This must be written in English and be no longer than two sides of A4 paper.

template for the science case is available.

“One of the main reasons for not obtaining the support of the panel is a lack of clear statements on how the proposed work will result in significant advances.” - Sue Kilcoyne, University of Salford

You should give a clear account of the aims of the experiment and set it within the broader scientific context. Keep in mind that not all review panel members are experts in the field. You should also indicate if there could be a potential economic impact of your research.

Give a detailed description of the experiment, explain why neutrons or muons are needed and give reasons for your choice of instrument. Justify why you need to use a particular instrument and why ISIS is important. Where possible, give results of preliminary work carried out, (for example, NMR or light scattering experiments) in support of your proposed experiment and to demonstrate sample quality. You should justify the amount of beam time you ask for.

If you have funding support from UK research councils (or other sources) describe how your proposal connects with this research. This can help to increase the success of your proposal.

If you want to apply for more than one instrument you must submit a separate proposal for each instrument. Your proposal could be allocated to another instrument, so please list other instruments that could be used.

Supply a list of recent publications from work at ISIS. As well as giving supporting information for your proposal, a good track record of publications following ISIS experiments can increase the success of your proposal.

Proposals will be copied, in black and white, for FAP panel members, so please use a font size of 11pt or greater and do not use colour in figures.

List the number of samples and sample environment conditions (for example, temperatures, pressures) and estimate the measuring time for each sample, or sample condition, to show how you calculated the overall beam time requirements. ISIS instrument scientists will be able to help you with this.


“Make sure you state exactly what measurements you want to do and break down the experiment so that the panel can assess the time requested.”– John Evans, Former Chairman Facility Access Panel 1 - Diffraction

For a complex series of experiments, either summarise them in a table or show how you reach your final beam request. ISIS instrument scientists will be able to help you with this. For example, 2 samples at 3 pressures and 4 temperatures for 5 hours each = 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 = 120 hours of beam time. Also include any time needed for equipment set up and sample equilibration.

If your proposal is a resubmission, you must address the comments made by the access panels about your previous submission.

Continuation proposals should be accompanied by an experimental report.

Your two page science case must be uploaded in PDF format and should have a file size smaller than 2 MB. If you do not have a PDF converter on your computer, you can use our online PDF converter.


It is important that you give accurate information about the safety of the samples and the safety of the proposed experiment. 

Failure to give correct information could delay the start of your experiment.

If you have any questions about sample or experiment safety, please contact Marek Jura.

All ISIS experiments are required to complete an online Experiment Risk Assessment (ERA) before starting work to evaluate experiment and sample safety. Providing this information in advance will allow ISIS staff to ensure that your experiments can go ahead and be safe and successful. Successful proposers will be sent a link to the ERA system in advance of their experiment.

Submitting proposals

Proposals must be submitted using the online proposal system:

Online proposals: Apply for beamtime here

A proposal can be entered over several sessions and you can save partially completed proposals. Proposals can be edited until the deadline for submissions.

New users must register their details in the online proposal system to receive an account before being able to submit a proposal. You can view and modify your personal details at any time.

If you have any questions about the online proposal system, please contact the ISIS User Programme Manager, Andrew Kaye.

Note that some information on successful proposals will be made public by ISIS: 

  • request for beamtime reference number (RB number)
  • principal investigator and co-investigators, and their institutions
  • instrument
  • days awarded
  • public abstract

You will need a 24 hour team

If your proposal is successful, you are responsible for arranging for a competent research team to be at ISIS on a 24 hour basis for the duration of your beam time.

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