The Hamburg area will soon boast a research facility of superlatives: the European XFEL will generate ultrashort X-ray flashes – 27 000 times per second and with a brilliance that is a billion times higher than that of the best conventional X-ray radiation sources. Thanks to its outstanding characteristics, which are unique worldwide, the facility will open up completely new research opportunities for scientists and industrial users.
Unique X-ray laser in the Hamburg region
The DESY research centre is instrumental in realizing this large-scale European project. The beginning of the European XFEL lies at DESY – in two senses of the word: The 3.4-kilometre-long facility starts on the DESY site in Hamburg Bahrenfeld; and the vision of an X-ray laser was created at DESY, and it is here that the preparations for the realization of the project were initiated.
Key technology for the light source of the future
The European XFEL is based on a superconducting linear electron accelerator, the technology of which has been developed by DESY and its international partners within the TESLA Collaboration. The high-energy electron beam drives a so-called free-electron laser, which generates ultrashort pulsed X-ray radiation with genuine laser properties. This opens up research opportunities scientists could previously only dream of. For instance, this kind of radiation enables them for the first time to observe processes in the nano cosmos in real time, i.e. to view “live broadcasts” of chemical reactions.
With the X-ray flashes generated by the European XFEL, scientists will be able to decode the atomic details of viruses and cells, capture three-dimensional images of the nanoworld, film chemical reactions and study processes under the kind of extreme conditions that prevail, for example, in the interior of planets. Such research will provide new insights into practically all of the scientific and technical fields that are of central importance to our everyday lives, including medicine, pharmacology, chemistry, materials science, nanotechnology, power engineering and electronics.
- European project with strong DESY participation
- Construction and operation: European XFEL GmbH (non-profit)
- Free-electron laser with superconducting linear accelerator in TESLA technology
- Total length: approx. 3.4 kilometres
- Generates extremely brilliant laser radiation in the X-ray range using the SASE principle (wavelengths tunable between 0.1 and 6 nanometres)
- Scheduled start of commissioning: 2016
- An underground experimental hall with room for ten experimental stations
- Scope to build a second, equally large experimental complex
More information can be found on the web site of the European XFEL GmbH.
Pioneering facility FLASH at DESY
Since 2005, DESY has been operating the free-electron laser FLASH, a 260-metre-long prototype of the European XFEL. The five experimental stations of FLASH are in great demand, with international teams of scientists using them to gain pioneering insights into the structures and reactions in the nano cosmos. Since FLASH relies on the same technological components as the European XFEL, the facility is also used to carry out important tests for the new X-ray laser. FLASH offers an ideal platform for developing all the requisite components for the European XFEL to the series-production stage.
Two strong partners
As a European project, the European XFEL is run by an independent research organization, of which DESY is one shareholder among others. The relation between the European XFEL GmbH and DESY is rather special, however, and not only due to the close vicinity. The first plans for the European XFEL were developed at DESY, and DESY also initiated the plan approval procedure for this large-scale project. DESY is the awarding authority for the civil and underground engineering work that started in January 2009. And, together with international partners, DESY is constructing the heart of the X-ray laser facility: the approximately 2-kilometre-long accelerator including the electron source. After its completion, DESY will take over the operation of the accelerator on behalf of the European XFEL GmbH.
The European XFEL GmbH and DESY will thus remain strong partners in the future, together ensuring that the new X-ray laser becomes a beacon for science of international appeal. DESY will contribute its strengths as one of the most versatile and innovative photon centres in the world, providing other research institutions and industrial researchers with cutting-edge technology and making important contributions to basic research thanks to its unique light sources.