Permission to travel
20 Aug 2009



Once a research team has decided on an ISIS experiment, it is time to put in a proposal.

​Andrew Willis (University College London) discussing a crystallography proposal

Access to an ISIS instrument is free to university researchers. Academic groups must first put in a proposal, outlining the scientific case for an experiment, against one of two deadlines a year - in April and October. One of seven Facilities Access Panels (FAPs), composed of national and international experts, reviews the proposal, after which days may be allocated for the experiment during the next operational run of ISIS.

Key to being awarded beam-time is good preparation of the proposal. Less experienced users should always first seek advice on the experiment’s technical feasibility. Steve King, who is also a LOQ instrument scientist, advises that they should make contact as soon as possible. “We can then start to flesh out what the researcher really wants to do,” says Steve. "For example, we can advise on deuteration of sample components. We try to help new users as much as possible and will provide feedback on the draft proposal,” he adds.

The ISIS website provides detailed instructions on proposal requirements and the online submission process. In just two sides of A4, researchers must explain why and how they want to carry out the experiment.

John Evans, who chairs the Crystallography Facility Access Panel, says that users must communicate the excitement of the science being done. He stresses the importance of providing the right amount of experimental detail, the number of days needed, as well as evidence of any supporting laboratory work carried out. "Groups who prepare excellent well-argued and clear proposals stand the highest chance of being awarded beam-time," he notes.

Assessing proposals

The Panels consist of academics, each with expertise in representative scientific areas. Each of the 500 or so proposals submitted in each allocation period is read by members of the relevant Panel. The Panels then meet over a couple of days, during which the scientific excellence of each proposal is discussed.

Members of the Large Scale Structures FAP reviewing proposals

Members of the Large Scale Structures FAP reviewing proposals

Usually about 60 days are available on each instrument for each period, and so beam-time is then allotted until the time is filled. In the case of an unsuccessful proposal, the Panels always give feedback on the reasons for rejection. They also aim to achieve a balance across subject areas. Panel members enjoy the scientific interactions of panel meetings and look forward to attending.

Other forms of access 

  • Rapid access: if samples have a short shelf-life or the research is exceptionally high-priority, researchers can choose the ‘rapid access’ route, whereby a proposal can be submitted at any time and reviewed by Panel members, and then scheduled as soon as possible.
  • Xpress access: some instruments including LOQ offer a service whereby a few samples suitable for routine analysis can be sent by courier for measurement.
  • Industry access: The ISIS collaborative R&D programme is a fast-track route for industries with a UK manufacturing or research base to use ISIS neutron and muon beams.

Next: Getting ready to go