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While the ILL's neutron source has remained essentially unchanged during the lifetime of the Institute, the ILL's instruments and their components have been continually developed and improved to increase their effectiveness.

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Instrument Control


The panorama of ILL's instrument control software is shared mainly between two sequencers: MAD and NOMAD.

MAD is a command-line based sequencer that has been developed at the ILL since the 80’s. Three different versions are available corresponding respectively to the Diffraction group (MADDIF), the Three-Axis group (TASMAD) and the Large Scale Structure plus Time-of-Flight group (MAD-C). The main difference consists in the programming language and in the technical solutions adopted by the various versions. MADDIF and TASMAD are mostly written in FORTRAN while MAD-C is a mixture of C and FORTRAN. From the architecture point of view, for MADDIF and TASMAD the execution of commands is totally sequential while MAD-C provides forks to execute commands in parallel.

A common separated program, called DTI, provides the control of the sample environment. DTI shares the memory with MAD and interact with it in an asynchronous way via message queues. DTI includes all the generic sample environment normally in use by the majority of ILL’s instruments, while the control of any specific equipment is directly included in MAD. The fact that DTI is completely separated from MAD increases, on one hand, the security in case of a crash of one of the two programs, leaving the other untouched, but, on the other hand, is a potential limitation when a high degree of synchronization is required between acquisition and sample environment.

With the evolution of both the ILL's instrument suite and the user community, the need of a new instrument control software became evident. NOMAD, the new generation of instrument control software is under development in order to fulfill those demands. The increase in complexity and in the overall performance of the instruments required a deeper integration between hardware and software to minimize the dead-time and therefore to optimize the beam-time usage.

New users' communities, less instrumentation oriented, are profiting from neutron techniques. The NOMAD graphical user interface (GUI) has been developed especially with those users in mind. It provides a simpler way of setting up measurement processes via the intuitive drag-and-drop approach. Complex structures such as for-loops and specific counting sequences can be included in the working area or saved for later use. The interface provides all the essential information concerning the instrument’s status. Live displays show in real-time the detector’s data or the result of a scan. All those information are also available remotely thanks to a web-based survey system that permits the user to follow the behaviour of the experiment remotely.

Different setups, ToF, kinetics, fcu acquisitions and a variety of sample environments, in short multiple configurations, this is today’s reality on most of the ILL’s instruments. NOMAD offers the unique possibility, thanks to its graphical configuration tool, to modify the layout of the instrument to best match the different hardware needs on a particular experiment. Configurable alarms on the critical hardware components are there to inform the users, via sms and email, on any malfunction that might occur during the experiment. Statistical estimators, optimization routines and automatic scans are helping the scientists to get the best out the available beam-time. With more that 125 drivers, which are today part of NOMAD, we can control all the sample environment hardware, performing on-line liquid height adjustments, magnetic field close-loop control and much more.

NOMAD has today reached its maturity and starts to be shared with other research institutes. The ultimate goal is to create a community of users and developers bringing new ideas and manpower to be able to bust the software development.

NOMAD is licensed under EUPL Version 1.1 and it is available for download on the public forge of the ILL following this link.