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  • Europe signs on to big x-ray facility

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2010
Marie Freebodymariefreebody@physics.org

HAMBURG, Germany – Europe soon will boast a multimillion-dollar research facility that promises to open up completely new research opportunities for scientists and industrialists alike. The European X-ray Free Electron Laser (European XFEL), which will be located in Germany, will generate ultrashort x-ray flashes 30,000 times per second, with an intensity a billion times brighter than that of the best conventional x-ray radiation sources.


Shown is the European XFEL construction site at DESY-Bahrenfeld in Hamburg in June 2009.

Using the x-ray flashes of the European XFEL, scientists will be able to map the atomic details of viruses, decipher the molecular composition of cells, take three-dimensional images of the nanoworld, film chemical reactions and study processes such as those occurring deep inside planets.

Construction and operation of the European XFEL is being realized as a joint effort of 12 countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Representatives from 10 member nations took an important step toward realization of the facility when they met Nov. 30, 2009, to sign the international European XFEL agreement. The pact lays the foundations for the facility under international law and defines the financial contributions of the partner countries.


The international European XFEL convention was signed in November 2009 at the Town Hall in Hamburg, Germany. Images courtesy of European XFEL 2009.

Totaling €1082 million – at 2005 price levels – the construction and commission of the new x-ray laser facility rely solely on the support of its partners. As the host country, Germany covers 54 percent of those costs. Russia bears 23 percent and the remaining nations, between 1 and 3.5 percent each. But with investment comes return, and this is expected to be big.

“The contributing countries participate not only in the construction, thereby obtaining a lot of knowledge in state-of-the-art accelerator and x-ray systems technology, but also participate in the definition of the scientific program and in its preparation,” said Dr. Thomas Tschentscher, director of user operations at the European XFEL. “The partners, therefore, have the opportunity to be involved in leading-edge x-ray research, which will provide education for scientific and engineering staff as well as the development of a scientific life in the fields of interest.”

The facility will be open for business in 2015 when proposals for scientific investigations will undergo a peer-review process, and approved experiments will be invited and supported by the facility staff. Connections with the photonics community are paramount because one of the key aims of the laser facility is to study matter at the time and length scale of atomic motion. This involves the challenging goal of obtaining time resolutions on the order of 10 fs, using optical lasers.

Tschentscher believes that the project is a chance for Europe and the contributing countries to demonstrate how scientists can benefit from joining forces. “The European XFEL shows how the collaboration of an international team of experts can result in a world-class facility, which will serve a large community and help to advance new scientific applications,” he said.


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