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  • X-ray Camera Can Acquire 3-D Images of Single Molecules
Aug 2011
SWINDON, England, Aug. 5, 2011 — Designed to record bursts of images at an unprecedented 4.5 million frames per second, an innovative x-ray camera will help a major new research facility shed light on the most minute structures of matter.

Created at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the camera will be delivered to the European XFEL (X-ray Free-Electron Laser) in Hamburg, Germany, in 2012 and will contribute to drug discovery and other vital research once this facility starts operating in 2015.

To generate the extremely short and intense x-ray laser flashes, bunches of high-energy electrons are directed through special arrangements of magnets. (Image: European XFEL)

The go-ahead for continuation of the £3 million ($4.9 million) contract for the camera’s construction was confirmed following a visit to the STFC by a delegation from the European XFEL’s detector advisory committee.

Now under construction, the European XFEL is a 2-mile-long facility in which electrons will be accelerated until they generate x-ray flashes a billion times brighter than those produced by conventional x-ray sources. Each flash will last less than 10 attoseconds. With the properties of laser light, these short, intense flashes will, for example, make it possible to take 3-D x-ray images of single molecules.

Current leading-edge x-ray cameras are designed to capture images when matter is bombarded by a constant beam of x-rays. But the extreme brevity and intensity of the flashes produced by the European XFEL means that such cameras will not be suitable for use at the new facility.

STFC’s new device, which is being built in collaboration with University of Glasgow, is specifically designed to work in conjunction with ultrashort x-ray flashes. It will be installed in one of the first experimental end stations incorporated in the European XFEL.

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