Nine Countries Plan to Participate in the XFEL

An important milestone has been reached on the way towards the realization of the European X-ray laser XFEL: With France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, nine countries have signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which they agree to jointly prepare the foundation of the facility. “Even if this declaration of intent is not yet a formal pledge, we are confident that these countries will then also participate in the construction and operation of the XFEL,” declared the chairman of the international XFEL steering committee, Dr. Hermann Schunck from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The Polish government representative Prof. Dr. Reinhard Kulessa at the signing of the XFEL Memorandum of Understanding. In the background from left to right: Dr. Hermann Schunck (BMBF), Prof. Dr. Albrecht Wagner, Dr. Hermann-Friedrich Wagner (BMBF), Prof. Dr. Jochen R. Schneider. Photograph: GSI, Darmstadt

With their signature, the nine signatory countries agreed to prepare the ground for a governmental agreement on the construction and operation of the European XFEL research facility until mid-2006. This includes working out proposals for detailed time schedules and financing schemes, the future organization structure, the exact technical design, and the operation of the X-ray laser. Together with Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia, Slovakia, and the European Union, which are present as observers, the signatory countries form an international steering committee which coordinates the preparations for the construction of the XFEL.

On the basis of a recommendation by the German Science Council, the German federal government decided in February 2003 to realize the planned X-ray laser XFEL (where X stands for X-ray and FEL for free-electron laser) as a European joint project at the Helmholtz center DESY. This research facility, which will be unique in Europe, is to take up operation in 2012. The costs for the XFEL amount to 908 million Euro (including the estimated development of price levels until 2012), which will be borne jointly by Germany and the partner countries.

The XFEL opens up completely new possibilities for the vast field of structural research. It will generate extremely brilliant, ultra-short X-ray pulses with laser-like properties and offer entirely new research conditions for the natural sciences and industrial users. Researchers will be able to literally film molecular and atomic processes and take snapshots of the atomic details of materials and biomolecules. This will lead to fundamental insights in a wide range of natural sciences – from physics and chemistry to materials science, geological research, and the life sciences. For industrial users, the new facility will for instance provide interesting opportunities for the development of new materials in the nanoworld.