40 Years of Research with Synchrotron Radiation at DESY

Last Wednesday, 250 guests from all over the world joined the DESY research center to celebrate the anniversary of a very special kind of light – the so-called synchrotron radiation, which is generated at accelerators and has exceptional properties.

The “father” of research with photons at DESY, Professor Peter Stähelin (5th from the right), among the guests of the anniversary celebration. Stähelin himself celebrated his 80th birthday in 2004.

“The first measurements with the light beam from the ring accelerator DESY started in 1964. DESY was one of the seed laboratories in which the worldwide success story of research with synchrotron radiation began,” Professor Albrecht Wagner, Chairman of the DESY Board of Directors explained in his welcoming address. “Today, around 1900 scientists from 31 countries are using our accelerator facilities as powerful light sources.” However, the celebration not only recalled the past four decades. The look ahead was also part of the program. Four of the lectures presented the light sources of the future: the worldwide unique free-electron laser VUV-FEL for vacuum-ultraviolet and soft X-ray radiation, the European X-ray laser XFEL for light with even shorter wavelengths, and the PETRA accelerator which is being converted into PETRA III, the most brilliant storage-ring-based X-ray radiation source in the world. “These three new light sources will secure us a leading position in the field of research with photons,” emphasized Professor Jochen R. Schneider, Research Director at DESY.

“Science is a true development factor for a region. We know what asset we have in DESY for this goal,” declared Jörg Dräger, Senator for Science and Health of the City of Hamburg. “That is why the Senate of the City of Hamburg has continued to support DESY over the past four decades and is now – along with Schleswig-Holstein – committed to the realization of XFEL.” MinDir Dr. Hermann Schunck showed himself equally enthused about the future projects of DESY: “I believe that these projects offer a fantastic future for DESY and its user communities.”

Forty years ago, synchrotron radiation at DESY started from scratch: At the beginning of the 1960s, the intense light generated when accelerated electrons fly around a curved path was regarded by the DESY physicists as an unwanted, disruptive effect. Early on however, the then Research Director Professor Peter Stähelin recognized the experimental opportunities offered by synchrotron radiation. In 1962, he instructed the up-and-coming young physicist Ruprecht Haensel to fathom out the perspectives of the new light source in his PhD thesis. After much pioneering work, measurements with synchrotron radiation finally began at the ring accelerator DESY in 1964. And the success story went on: The larger storage ring DORIS took up operations in 1974, providing experimental opportunities for both particle physicists and the users of synchrotron radiation. Since 1993, DORIS has been used exclusively as a radiation source. A further milestone was marked in 1980 by the establishment of the Hamburg Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory HASYLAB, which maintains a large experimental hall with nearly 40 measuring stations at the DORIS accelerator. In addition, three test measuring stations for hard X-ray radiation are available for the HASYLAB users at the ring accelerator PETRA, which will be converted into the X-ray radiation source PETRA III from 2007 on and will then deliver radiation of especially high brilliance. Moreover, starting in 2005 scientists will be able to carry out experiments at the free-electron laser VUV-FEL, which will generate radiation in the VUV and the soft X-ray range. At the same time, this FEL will serve as a pilot plant for the European X-ray free-electron laser XFEL, which will produce even shorter wavelengths in the X-ray range. The XFEL is to start operations from 2012 on. Its high-intensity, ultra-short flashes of laser light offer completely new research perspectives for the natural sciences and industrial users. Thus it will for instance be possible to make “movies” with atomic resolution of the behavior of materials or of a virus particle in a body cell.