The research carried out at DESY is extremely diverse. The scientists who work here are looking for the tiniest building blocks of matter that make up our world, developing innovative high-tech materials and searching for new mechanisms of action for future medications. As one of Germany’s largest research centres, DESY carries out fundamental research that creates new knowledge and new conceptual approaches. This research is the basis on which the challenges of the future can be mastered: issues such as energy supply, climate protection and healthcare require long-term thinking, sustainable solutions and new technologies.

Research at DESY focuses on three areas:




Speed machines for top performance

Particle accelerators are among the most important tools for research. They speed up tiny, electrically charged particles nearly to the speed of light – that is, to almost 300 000 kilometres per second. A broad range of scientific disciplines benefit from these fast particles. Particle physicists bring them together in head-on collisions to investigate the tiniest building blocks of matter. Chemists, materials scientists and biologists use accelerators to generate the brightest X-ray radiation in the world in order to examine diverse materials ranging from aircraft turbines to microchip semiconductors and proteins that are essential to life. Medical researchers use accelerators for cancer therapy, as the high-energy particle beams can be targeted to destroy tumours.


The accelerator physicists at DESY are working on both fronts. Together with partners all over the world, they have developed an innovative concept called TESLA technology. This accelerator concept is to serve not only as the basis of a future super-accelerator for particle physics but also as the most powerful X-ray source in the world – the European XFEL X-ray laser in Hamburg. In addition, the experts at DESY are already working on concepts for the future – for example, on a completely new principle that could one day enable them to accelerate particles much more effectively than is possible today.


High tech for highest energies

In a global effort, DESY physicists are developing an innovative accelerator technology

Together with 50 institutes from 12 countries, DESY has been developing a particularly effective accelerator concept – called TESLA technology – since the 1990s. Unlike conventional facilities, the TESLA accelerator elements are superconducting and therefore operate almost without any energy loss:

the energy of the electromagnetic fields is transferred almost entirely to the particle beam. However, these superconducting elements function only under extremely cold conditions and are therefore installed in heat-insulated tubes. Inside these tubes, helium cools the temperature to approximately minus 271 degrees Celsius – a superlative refrigerator.

Today, the free-electron laser FLASH is based on TESLA technology. Starting in 2015, more than 800 superconducting accelerator elements will be used in the European XFEL X-ray laser. And a future linear accelerator for particle physics will also be based on this innovative concept. The international partners are currently working on making the TESLA technology even more powerful and cost-effective.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

The metal niobium is smelted several times before being processed further.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

At DESY, all the niobium sheets are gathered together and subjected to quality inspection.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

A scanner checks the surface for impurities and unevenness.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

The sheets are formed into accelerator elements.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

Special 3D software makes it possible to take a virtual stroll through the accelerator before it even exists.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

The accelerator elements are assembled in a cleanroom.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

The individual elements are gradually becoming a string; eight of them are built into one accelerator module.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

Helium lines and other components are fitted into the module.


How a TESLA accelerator module is made

The finished modules are installed in the accelerator tunnel.


From niobium sheet to precision component

How a TESLA accelerator module is made

The European XFEL X-ray laser will rely on accelerator modules of the latest generation. The concept behind these superconducting resonators was developed by an international team led by DESY and refined until it was ready for application. Construction of the accelerator complex is now well under way. Institutes and companies are preparing for the series production of the 101 modules, each of which will house eight resonators made of the metal niobium. The manufacture and assembly of these high-tech components are extremely complex. The very highest precision and quality are required so that the electron beam can later be accelerated to the desired energy.



The nanocosmos in X-ray light

The light sources at DESY are based on particle accelerators and generate extremely intense X-ray radiation. These “supermicroscopes” reveal the atomic details and the behaviour of materials and biomolecules – and form the basis for developing new technologies.

One example is nanomaterials, i.e. materials with structures only millionths of a millimetre in size. They play an ever greater role in everyday life, with applications ranging from computer technology to extremely scratch-resistant surfaces and optimized therapeutic procedures in medicine. New energyefficient materials for fuel cells and solar cells can be developed as well. Medical science also benefits from the interdisciplinary application potential of the DESY light sources: scientists elucidate molecular mechanisms that form the basis for pharmaceutical companies to develop new medicines.

With the construction and development of excellent light sources and interdisciplinary research collaborations, DESY is one of the world’s leaders in photon science.


Golden age for solar energy

DESY research improves solar cells

The application possibilities for solar cells that are as bendable and inexpensive as plastic film are truly exciting. Windows could be lined with solar films that produce electricity, and solar-cell-coated backpacks could be used to recharge mobile phones and MP3 players. However, at present these organic solar cells are not particularly energy efficient and do not exhibit long service lives. DESY researchers are striving to improve their properties.

Organic solar cells are made of electrically conductive plastics that are fitted with electrical contacts. As a rule, the better the bond between the contacts and the plastic, the greater the amount of energy that can be reaped. A team led by DESY scientist Stephan Roth is using X-rays from PETRA III to examine how gold atoms and plastic bond. “The intense and extremely fine X-ray beam from PETRA III enables us to monitor the entire production process in detail,” Roth explains. “No other method will work here.”

The experts can watch more or less live how the gold atoms merge into nanoislands, which form the nuclei for the contacts. These observations give the researchers important clues as to how the production process can be optimized.



How does the universe work?

Particle physicists are investigating the fundamental mysteries of the universe: what holds the cosmos together, and how do particles acquire their mass in the first place? When DESY was founded in 1959, the primary task of the centre was to investigate the smallest particles. Over the decades, DESY has put into place central pieces of the mosaic of particle physics. With the PETRA storage ring, researchers discovered the gluon, the “glue particle” that holds the quarks together and without which there would be no atoms. Later, they used the HERA accelerator to investigate the proton with unprecedented precision. The surprising result: the inner workings of this particle, which is so important for our world, turned out to be much more complex than expected.

Today, a number of DESY researchers are taking part in the large experiments at the LHC in Geneva, the most powerful accelerator in the world. Others are peering deep into the cosmos. Using spectacular detectors and telescopes, the experts are analysing exotic particles that come from far corners of the universe and could provide information about fascinating phenomena, such as black holes, exploding stars and inconceivably intense eruptions of radiation.


In search of Higgs & Co.

The research centre CERN operates the LHC, the world’s most powerful accelerator

It’s the most ambitious project of particle physics: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN research centre in Geneva. The gigantic accelerator boosts protons to unprecedented energies and makes them collide head-on with one another. These collisions can give rise to exotic, short-lived particles that reveal what fundamental building blocks the world is made of. Complex detectors as large as office buildings monitor the proceedings. DESY physicists take part in these experiments, sometimes in leadership roles.

With its record-setting energy, the LHC is expected to answer some of the most exciting questions in physics, for example: how do elementary particles acquire their mass? According to the physicist Peter Higgs, the cosmos is permeated by a special field that offers the particles due resistance and thereby makes them “heavy”. If the theory is correct, there have to be special particles, called Higgs bosons. And indeed, in the summer of 2012, the LHC quite likely detected such a particle.

But the largest scientific machine in the world could also detect entirely different, so far merely speculative phenomena. One fascinating result would be the discovery of SUSY particles, which could also provide an explanation for dark matter.


Windows on the universe

Messenger particles for a view on the cosmos

The DESY scientists also conduct research in astroparticle physics, an interdisciplinary field that combines methods and questions from astrophysics, cosmology and particle physics. Various kinds of particle from the cosmos constantly reach the Earth – particles that can provide insights into the happenings in the depths of the universe. The DESY researchers in Zeuthen use two of these cosmic messengers, neutrinos and gamma rays, to uncover the secrets of stellar explosions, cosmic particle accelerators like the surroundings of black holes, or of dark matter.

The Earth is constantly bombarded by particles from the vast expanses of the cosmos, which incessantly rain down on the atmosphere and set off whole avalanches of secondary particles, which traverse the complete atmosphere. Some of these particles from space reach vertiginous energies, up to ten million times higher than those delivered be the LHC, the most powerful accelerator man ever built. But where are the sources of these high-energy projectiles? Are these particles messengers from the immediate surroundings of black holes, which swallow matter like giant maelstroms, hurtling energy into space in the process in the form of extended matter rays? Or could other astronomical objects also act as cosmic accelerators? Can cosmic rays provide insights about the mysterious dark matter? Researchers from DESY in Zeuthen collaborate with experts from all over the world to investigate these questions.


“For over 50 years, researchers at DESY have been developing innovative accelerator designs and technologies that consistently make it possible to break new scientific ground.”

Dr. Reinhard Brinkmann, DESY Director of the Accelerator Division

“With PETRA III and FLASH, we have two of the world’s best X-ray sources for detailed studies of the structure and behaviour of matter.”

Prof. Edgar Weckert, DESY Director in charge of Photon Science

“DESY’s particle physicists are searching for the basic building blocks of the universe as they work at the forefront of large-scale experiments around the world.”

Prof. Joachim Mnich, DESY Director in charge of High-Energy Physics and Astroparticle Physics

“DESY already plays a very prominent role in international astroparticle physics. We want to reinforce that role and expand the DESY
location in Zeuthen into a national centre in this field.”

Prof. Christian Stegmann, Director of the DESY location in Zeuthen