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European XFEL enters operation phase

World's largest X-ray laser starts operation - milestone en route to official opening on September 1

The world’s largest X-ray laser, the European XFEL, has entered its operation phase, a press release said Tuesday (July 4, 2017). The X-ray laser produces extremely bright and short X-ray flashes with the help of specialised experiment stations and gives scientists entirely new insights into the atomic details and processes of the nano world. Engineers and scientists at European XFEL and DESY have spent the past weeks ensuring that experiment stations are fully equipped and that the X-ray beam meets the required parameters. The European XFEL Council agreed on June 29, 2017 that conditions for the start of operations have been met and released the designated funds. First experiments have already begun for commissioning purposes. User operation for scientific research purposes is scheduled from September.

Katharina Fegebank, Senator for Science, Research and Equality, said: “I am delighted that the transition to the operating phase has gone smoothly. The opening is next and there are no obstacles to user operations from September. When the first scientists from all over the world start their research with this super X-ray laser in autumn, this will give Hamburg as a centre of research an enormous boost. The European XFEL will make the metropolitan region the world’s ‘place to be’ for research with free, electron lasers.”

Scientific co-operation in Europe

The facility had to meet several pre-determined, technical requirements to qualify for the transition from the commissioning to operating phase. Accordingly, the pulses of the X-ray laser at a wavelength of maximally two Ångströms (0.2 nanometres) had to reach a typically high intensity and remain stable. Two experiment stations of the first beamline had to be sufficiently equipped to conduct the first scientific experiments.

Prof. Martin Meedom Nielsen, Chairman of the European XFEL Council, said: “The member states are very pleased and excited about the great achievements made at the European XFEL, which mean we can now start the operation phase of this world-leading X-ray science facility. This major milestone has been eagerly awaited by the international user community, who are busily preparing for experiments that will break new scientific ground. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the European XFEL management and staff, and to the accelerator consortium led by DESY, for their dedication and hard work.”

Official opening on September 1, 2017

The 3.4 km long facility, most of which is located in underground tunnels, generated its first X-ray laser light in early May/. Other developments since then include producing short wave, so-called hard X-rays, successfully guiding the X-ray beam via special mirrors into the experiment hutches, and commissioning a number of highly specialised instruments for characterizing the properties of the X-ray beam. Directly after the first X-ray beam was guided into the hutches on June 23, 2017, teams at European XFEL started with the characterisation of the beam and experiments for the commissioning of the instruments.

The facility will be officially opened on September 1, 2017 followed by the arrival of the first users in the ensuing weeks. International experts’ committees have evaluated project proposals in recent months for the first round of beam time. Successful submissions will be announced shortly.

Sources and further information:

About European XFEL

The Hamburg Metropolitan Region can now 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. The outstanding characteristics of the facility are unique worldwide. From 2017, it will open up completely new research opportunities for scientists and industrial users. They can use the X-ray flashes of the European XFEL to map the atomic details of viruses, decipher the molecular composition of cells, take 3D images of the nanoworld, film chemical reactions, and study processes such as those occurring deep inside planets. The European XFEL GmbH is a non-profit research organization that works closely with DESY resarch centre and other international institutions and has around 280 employees.

About DESY

The Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) is Germany’s leading, international accelerator centre. It operates particle accelerators used to investigate the structure of matter. DESYconducts a broad spectrum of inter-disciplinary scientific research in three main areas: particle and high energy physics; photon science and the development, construction and operation of particle accelerators. Its name refers to its first project, an electron synchrotron. DESY is a member of the Helmholtz Association and operates at sites in Hamburg and Zeuthen near Berlin. It is financed to 90 per cent by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research and to 10 per cent by the states of Hamburg and Brandenburg. In addition to operating its own large accelerator facilities, DESY also provides consulting services to research initiatives, institutes and universities. It is closely involved in major international projects such as the European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser in which it is the main shareholder.
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