User Guide

guidelines and rules to apply for access to NFFA Europe Infrastructures


NFFA-Europe offers to European and Third Country (see eligibility criteria) scientists from both academia and industry the possibility to carry out comprehensive projects for multidisciplinary research at the nanoscale. 

and select the tools you need

Activities are performed in 6 different types of Installations:

  • Installation 1 - Litho
    Lithography and nano-patterning
  • Installation 2 - Growth
    Growth and synthesis
  • Installation 3 - Theory
    Theory and Simulation 
  • Installation 4 - SM Charact.
    Structural and Morphological nano-characterization 
  • Installation 5 - EC Charact.
    Electronic and Chemical nano-characterization
  • Installation 6 - ME Charact.
    Magnetic, Optical and Electric nano-characterization


Each Installation includes laboratories located in different NFFA-EU sites; when needed, limited* access to co-located Large-Scale Facilities for Fine Analysis is offered as part of Litho, or SM, EC or ME nano-characterization.

NFFA-Europe proposals necessarily**

  • include access to more than one type of Installation (e.g. Litho and Growth, Growth and Theory, SM Charact. and EC Charact., etc.) 
  • cannot be limited to Fine Analysis only.

Whenever possible access will be granted in a single NFFA-Europe site for all research steps. Access to more than one site for a given proposal will be considered only when technically or scientifically justified. Multiple access to the same facility (facilities) under the same proposal cannot be supported beyond standard reimbursement limits.

*NFFA-Europe is not an alternative vehicle to access Large Scale Facilities with respect to the standard LSF access procedures proposed by each facility.  Limited access to beamtime (SR, neutrons) may be granted by NFFA-Europe only in agreement with the rules stated below.

**Limited exceptions include access to the Theory Installation, combined access to neutron and synchrotron facilities and access by SMEs (see Proposal Requirements (a)).

the workflow


The Single Entry Point (SEP) on this portal provides the overall list of tools and methods available and is the portal to submit a proposal. Proposals can be submitted at any time but will be periodically collected for scientific evaluation. These periodic collections will take place on 15 January, 15 April, 15 July, 15 October at 17:00 (extended to the next working day should the official deadline fall on a nonworking day) each year.


After submission, the technical feasibility of each research step will be assessed by the Technical Liaison Network (TLNet). If proposals are submitted well before the collection deadlines, possible technical problems will be promptly identified and solutions worked out and proposed to the users.


Feasible proposals will then be evaluated and ranked according to scientific merit by an external panel of reviewers (ARP).


The best-ranked proposals are assigned to the most appropriate NFFA-Europe site/sites, guaranteeing free access* to the most appropriate combination of methods and instruments. The responsibility of the site choice is entirely on the NFFA-Europe side.


The user group leader is notified by the TLNet of the results of the technical and scientific evaluation and of the assignment to one or more specific NFFA-Europe access sites.


All users are asked to accept and undersign the NFFA-Europe User Access Policy. NFFA-Europe will not schedule any research activity before signed forms from all participants are received by the TLNet.


The user group leader will be contacted by the specific access site/s to agree on a scheduling and to be instructed on specific procedures for access.


At the end of the access sessions, users are requested by the NFFA-Europe management to fill in the NFFA-Europe Satisfaction Questionnaire and the NFFA-Europe User Report.

The general timeline of all access related procedures can be found here. NFFA-Europe will make all efforts to respect the timeline, with the active collaboration of users.

*Access to the experimental and theoretical installations is completely free of charge. Moreover, a contribution is given for travel and subsistence expenditures (see below the “travel & subsistence support” section for detailed information).

Eligibility criteria

Access is granted to user groups, i.e. teams of one or more researchers, led by a user group leader, according to the following eligibility criteria:


The user group leader and the majority of the users must work in a country other than the country(ies) where the installations are located.


In case of positive proposal evaluation, access for user groups with at least half of the users working in a EU or associated country is granted within the capacity of NFFA-Europe; access for user groups with a majority of users not working in a EU or associated country is limited to 20% of the total access provided by NFFA-Europe.


Only user groups that are allowed to disseminate the results generated within NFFA-Europe can apply, unless the users are working for SMEs (see below).


Users working for or with industry of any size are very welcome to apply for NFFA access either alone or in partnership with academic teams. Access is granted free-of-charge provided results are published with the exception detailed below. Industrial users may also opt for a proprietary access where all work and results remain confidential, with no external peer review evaluation. Industry interested in such a fee-based access is invited to contact TLNet directly for a full explanation of the relevant H2020 project rules.


Users working for SMEs are exempted from the obligation to disseminate the results generated within NFFA-Europe. Proposals submitted by users working for SMEs will undergo technical feasibility check and scientific evaluation as for all NFFA-Europe proposals.

The Technical Liaison Network

The Technical Liaison Network (TLNet) is the backbone of NFFA-Europe, providing a wealth of skills and technical information across the NFFA-Europe multidisciplinary and multi-site research infrastructure. TLNet supports the full lifecycle of user proposals, from first explorative contact by the user to data management. The TLNet will give feedback to requests and questions by users and liaise with contact scientists and specific instruments.

The TLNet tasks are the assessment on the technical feasibility of the proposals and the assignment to the best suited NFFA-Europe sites according to technical requirements and availability and overall optimisation. A mechanism similar to the peer review system of an editorial board is used to rapidly obtain technical responses from the NFFA installations and the best solution for the user is setup.

The first step in approaching NFFA-Europe for specific technical questions can be made by simply sending an e-mail to In the future, a one-stop-shop will be implemented for a more efficient interaction with the user.

Proposal requirements


NFFA-Europe proposals must include access to at least two different types of Installations (Litho/Growth/Theory/SM Charact./EC Charact./ME Charact.).

The following exceptions to this general rule are admitted:

  • Proposals that need combined access to fine analysis employing both neutrons and synchrotron radiation at Large Scale Facilities to investigate the same sample systems are eligible even when the requested techniques belong to the same installation.
  • Proposals to access theoretical installations are considered eligible not only if they combine access to another NFFA installation (in compliance with NFFA-Europe general rules), but also if they address recent experimental results obtained at facilities other than NFFA-Europe's ones. Moreover, proposals to access multi-scale/multi-physics simulations are considered eligible if they address at least two independent computational methods (e.g. electronic ground-state and excited-state approaches, molecular dynamics and electronic structure, structural and spectroscopic properties...). However, it must be stressed that proposals to jointly access experimental and theoretical NFFA installations (standard access rules) will have the priority.
  • Proposals by SMEs requesting access to just one installation are eligible.


Access to Fine Analysis methods only is not allowed as it is directly provided by the Large Scale Facilities, except for proposals employing both neutrons and synchrotron radiation. This is a unique opportunity not provided by other access programs.


Access to Fine Analysis at Large Scale Facilities by NFFA-Europe proposals is limited to six shifts/proposal, where a shift is the usual quantum of access to the specific Large Scale Facility (eight shifts/proposal in well-justified cases only).


A maximum number of 20 UoA is advised for any user project. Proposals claiming for more resources should provide due justifications. A maximum cumulative usage for a given technique/installation at a given provider by the same user group is set at 50%. When such usage is exceeded the user will get the appropriate message and proposals from that group will no longer be eligible. In any case, such users will be able to apply in the last two NFFA calls if there is still remaining capacity. This limit will not apply to those techniques locally offered in such low numbers that a reasonable access by the user will consume it anyway.


A preference for access to a specific NFFA-Europe site can be indicated by the users, but this information is not binding for the NFFA-Europe scheduling.  Whenever suitable for the performance of the proposal NFFA-Europe will grant access to a single site that includes all the installations needed.


Research steps are not necessarily consecutive. If you need time to perform further work at your home Institution before continuing your research at NFFA-Europe, please justify your choice and add your timeline in the description of work. If your justification is accepted and your proposal is granted access, the scheduling will take into account your needs, with limitations applying only to the total travel and subsistence cost per proposal.


For a limited number of tools/methods, part of the work might sometimes be done without the physical presence of the user group, e.g. for the provision of reference materials or samples, or for performing a remote sample analysis or sample deposition, or for access to a high-performance computing facility. If remote access is available for part of your proposal, the TLNet will offer you this option during the scheduling phase.

How to submit a proposal

Proposals are prepared and submitted through the NFFA-Europe Single Entry Point (SEP), where you can find an up-to-date catalogue of all tools and methods offered by the six NFFA-EU types of Installation and their geographical distribution, as well as their main technical specifications.

Please follow instructions below:

  1. From the catalogue, compose your wish list, made of all the steps required by your research.
  2. From your wish list page, login or sign up if you are a new user to access your online application form.
  3. In the online application form, add general info on your proposal: Title, scientific domain, ERC sectors, keywords, abstract, state of the art, objectives (including the motivation for the use of NFFA-Europe). Please add up to five references of previous literature relevant for your work. Up to five figures can be uploaded to complement the description. Acceptable formats are jpg, png, bmp, gif.
  4. In the work plan section, you will find a table to be completed for each research step in your wish list. You have to tell us:
    • What the purpose of this specific research step is: Please explain why you want to access this set-up/method, how it relates with previous/following steps and what you expect to learn. This field is particularly important for the scientific evaluation of your proposal.
    • What your measurement/process plan is: Please describe how you plan to conduct the experiment (e.g. sequence of single measurements/processes with that technique). Tell us also the timeline of this step: do you plan to start immediately after the previous step or you need to postpone it (why and for how long?). This field is particularly important for the scientific evaluation of your proposal.
    • Laboratory or Large Scale Facility: If the technique you are asking for is available both in laboratory and at a LSF, a tick box will appear to allow you to choose which of the two options you need to access. If the technique is available at LSF only, you will be reminded by a warning message.
    • Technical specifications and ancillary techniques needed: Briefly describe the main technical specifications of the instrument/method you chose that are needed to successfully accomplish your experiment (e.g. resolution, source, detection mode, …). Please tell us also if you need to access ancillary techniques, i.e. side control measurements (e.g. SEM for FIB, XAS or XPD for XMCD, RHEED for MBE), materials or processes for surface preparation or device fabrication. An ancillary technique is never considered as a separate research step. This field is particularly relevant to check the technical feasibility of your proposal.
    • Sample and/or target material details: Provide number and details of the specific samples and/or target materials you plan to use. Specify also the physical dimensions when appropriate. For access to lithography, please tell us whether you plan to work out electronic files for direct writing lithography methods during your stay or you plan to bring your own files. Please be informed that physical lithographic masks should be provided by you. This field is particularly relevant to check the technical feasibility of your proposal.
    • Equipment: A tick box allows you to inform us of the intention to bring some of your equipment, if any. In case you plan to bring your instrumentation (e.g. evaporators, targets, detectors, etc.) please provide a brief description to check compatibility and safety issues.
    • Estimated Units of Access (UoAs): This is a measure of the time you need. Please give an estimate of the units of access needed for that research step. If you are not able to make an educated guess, please contact the TLNet for assistance. The estimate is not binding for NFFA-Europe. The actual number of UoAs allocated to each research step will be determined by the TLNet after the feasibility check. 1 UoA = 8 hours for experiments, 1 UoA = 1 project for theory. For Fine Analysis at co-located Large-Scale Facilities you can ask a maximum of 6 UoAs/proposal.
  5. If needed, add/delete/sort your research steps.
  6. If you have already obtained by other means other open access grants (such as beamtime at a Large Scale Facility co-located with NFFA-Europe sites) for complementary work on the same scientific topic, activate the corresponding tick-box and provide details when prompted. The info will be taken into account for an optimized access scheduling in case of acceptance of your NFFA-Europe proposal.
  7. If there is a specific NFFA-Europe site where you would prefer to perform your research, please choose from the list and explain the reasons for your preference. Remember that your suggestion is not binding for NFFA-Europe and that you can only access NFFA-Europe installations located in countries different from the country where the user group leader and the majority of the users are employed.
  8. If you have additional information on your proposal that you want to bring to our attention, please fill in the “additional notes” field. 
  9. In the “industry involvement” section please let us know of any links your research proposal has to industry or commercial opportunities (for example industry applicant or co-applicant, industry supported students or staff, joint grants with industry, patents, technology licensing, etc). We strongly welcome industrial involvement. The industrial partner may remain anonymous if needed, but its existence and typology should be declared. With industrial we mean any economic activity - private, public or mixed - that participates to the research project, or that finances it, or that accesses to the data produced in agreement, or under contractual terms, with the proposers. Please indicate the type of industry and the type of involvement. These data are necessary in order to assess the industrial impact of NFFA-Europe. The industrial use/impact is a very sensitive evaluation parameter under H2020.
  10. Please add up to five references to your previous work in the field, if any.
  11. Add info on the composition of your user group. Remember that you, as main proponent, will be automatically added as user group leader.
  12. If needed, add your tentative request for Travel & Subsistence Support. Remember that you can ask for a contribution for travel expenses only, for subsistence only or for both. No more than two users per proposal are allowed to ask for support.
  13. Please let us know if this is a resubmission or a continuation of a previous proposal by your research group, the previous ID and any related comment you want to share for the evaluation of your proposal. For continuation proposals, please remember that your submission will NOT be evaluated if you did not submit the final Questionnaire and the Report of your previous proposal(s).
  14. Tick one or more options in the list of possible dissemination channels to let us know how you got to know about NFFA-Europe.
  15. A template for technical specifications of you sample and safety issues has to be downloaded, completed, signed and uploaded. Upload a PDF version of your completed form when prompted.
  16. Read and accept terms&conditions for proposal submission and legal notices.
  17. Save your draft for further editing or submit your proposal.

Proposal Evaluation

NFFA-Europe proposals are first checked for technical feasibility. Proposals assessed as “feasible” will be then sent for evaluation of scientific merit by an independent, external Access Review Panel (ARP).

The ARP consists of twelve experts in nanoscience (including a Chairperson) covering all necessary competences foreseen by the NFFA-Europe access programme, including representatives of the Large Scale Facilities to warrant alignment of the selection criteria for optional limited beam time. 

The ARP may ask for advice to industrial experts when evaluating the innovation potential of proposals submitted by SMEs.

At present, the ARP is composed by:


Artur Erbe, José Maria de Teresa, Paulo Freitas


Alexej Kalabukhov, Jacobo Santamaria


Matteo Gatti, Barbara Montanari


Michèle Sauvage (Chairperson), Jose A. Martín Gago, Sabrina Disch, Kristiaan Temst

The main criteria followed by the ARP in the evaluation process are:

  • Scientific merit, evaluated in terms of:
    • scientific relevance for nanoscience 
    • appropriateness of the experimental/theoretical programme
    • expected impact of the results
  • Demonstration of the need for the use of the NFFA-Europe infrastructure
  • Innovation potential and industrial interest will be considered as added value. 

In case of competition between projects at equal level of scientific ranking by referees, a preference will be given to:

  • projects with female proponent(s)
  • user groups who have not previously used the specific NFFA-Europe installations and who are working in countries where no equivalent research infrastructure exists.

Rejected proposals will always be accompanied by a written report explaining the reasons for rejection. Where appropriate, the report will also include recommendations and suggestions for improvement and possible resubmission of a new proposal.

Travel & subsistence support

EU funding, up to the maximum budget available, will be allocated to travel and subsistence support to NFFA-Europe users, according to the following criteria:

  • Up to two users per proposal can be supported
  • A maximum contribution of 400€ per each person and per access site can be granted. Whenever possible, booking of low-cost flights is recommended. The contribution will never exceed the actual travel cost as demonstrated by ticket invoice.
  • A maximum contribution of 70€ per person and per day can be granted for subsistence.
  • In case of multi-site assignment, each user can be supported for access to a maximum of two different access sites within the same proposal.
  • For proposals envisaging periodic access to the same site(s), multiple travels to the same site(s) are allowed for each user; the overall maximum contribution for travel will not exceed 400€ per person and site, the overall contribution for subsistence will be 70€ per person for a max number of days as determined by the total UoAs assigned.
  • The overall duration of each access has to be coherent with the number of UoAs assigned.
  • Users are strongly encouraged to include an explicit request for support in the proposal, by activating the related option. Confirmation of their request will be asked at a later stage.
  • It has to be specified if the request is for travel only, for subsistence only or for both, and for one or two (maximum) users.
  • When support is asked for two users, it is possible to submit a request for different contributions (e.g. travel only for one user, travel and subsistence for the other).
  • General rules for travel & subsistence support request can be found here, although detailed procedures are specific of the NFFA-Europe site where access is assigned. Once access is allocated, the user-group leader of a granted proposal will be contacted by the local coordination of access activities for further instructions.