Large-scale facilities for science

Large-scale facilities for science

Large-scale facilities make it possible to carry out top-level research and produce innovations. DESY’s accelerators are super-microscopes that are in great demand internationally and can be used for a broad range of applications. Accelerators bring tiny charged particles to high energies and to speeds close to that of light. By causing the particles to collide head-on, particle physicists gain important insights into the nature of the fundamental building blocks of matter. Materials researchers, biologists and chemists, on the other hand, benefit from the extremely powerful and collimated X-ray radiation that the fast-moving particles emit. DESY’s accelerators have a high reputation in both fields worldwide.

Three large accelerators dominate the DESY site today: PETRA III is the world’s best storage ring when it comes to generating X-ray radiation; FLASH produces ultrashort pulses of “soft” X-ray radiation that make unique experiments possible; and the European XFEL sets a new world record by generating the most intensive X-ray flashes in history. This trio makes DESY the world’s leading centre for X-ray experiments.


Brilliant storage ring PETRA III

The world’s brightest storage ring opens up new possibilities for nanoresearch

PETRA was the world’s biggest accelerator when it was commissioned in 1978. It was used initially as a “collider” for particle physics experiments; later it served as the pre-accelerator for the even larger HERA ring. Following that, it was converted into the most brilliant radiation source of its kind: since 2010, PETRA III has been supplying X-ray radiation that is more powerful and tightly focused than anything produced by other storage rings worldwide. 

The special characteristic of PETRA III is the tightly collimated X-ray beams, which are up to 5000 times finer than a human hair. These make it possible to study extremely small samples, such as tiny protein crystals or nanocrystals that will be used in the hard drives of the future. PETRA III can also generate very “hard” (i.e. short-wavelength) X-rays, which penetrate deeper into materials than other X-ray radiation. This is an important advantage when analysing new metal alloys such as those being developed for the automobiles and aircraft of tomorrow.

Researchers from around the world are extremely interested in PETRA III. The facility is regularly overbooked and only a fraction of the experiment requests can be granted. DESY has therefore further expanded the facility including two new experimental halls with additional measuring stations.


Record X-ray pulses at FLASH

The vanguard of a new laser generation is located in Hamburg

For decades, scientists could only dream of a laser that would produce highly intense, ultrashort X-ray flashes. This vision is now a reality at DESY: since 2005, FLASH has been supplying high-intensity laser pulses consisting of “soft” (i.e. relatively long-wavelength) X-rays for research purposes. The FLASH X-ray bursts have special properties. They are a thousand times more powerful than the pulses emitted by comparable conventional lasers, and they are also much shorter than the X-ray pulses produced in a storage ring. This enables scientists to monitor extremely rapid processes in detail, and answer questions such as: What exactly happens during chemical reactions? What occurs when a metal melts?

The international research community is tremendously interested in FLASH, which is why the facility was expanded further. A second tunnel for generating X-rays is branching off from the accelerator tunnel. The X-ray flashes are guided into a new experimental hall with several measuring stations that offer plenty of space for additional experiments.




A superlative X-ray laser

The European XFEL – a unique research facility

A spectacular laser facility produces X-ray flashes that are shorter than a trillionth of a second and billions of times brighter than the radiation generated in storage rings. The European XFEL is a gigantic 3.4-kilometre-long laser facility located in underground tunnels. It runs in a northwesterly direction from the DESY site in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld to a large experimental hall located in the German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Altogether, 12 countries are participating in the European XFEL project. DESY, the main shareholder, is working closely with the company European XFEL GmbH on the operation of the facility. DESY and international partners built the heart of the X-ray laser facility – the 1.7-kilometre superconducting accelerator including the electron source. DESY also operates the accelerator. The research possibilities offered by the European XFEL benefit scientists from various disciplines – from semiconductor physicists to molecular biologists, medical scientists, chemists, astrophysicists and geologists.