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European XFEL now accepting proposals for experiments

High hopes of new findings on process of illnesses and energy research - user programme to start in second half of 2017

Scientists from all over the world can now submit their proposals for experiments at the European XFEL, according to an announcement Tuesday (January 24) on its website. The user programme is expected to begin in the second half of 2017 with two of six planned instruments being initially available. An international panel of experts will review the proposals on the basis of scientific excellence.

3.4 kilometre X-ray laser

If their proposals are successful, research groups will be allowed use the European XFEL and access extremely brilliant X-ray light flashes at one of the facility’s instruments, for a few days. Use of the facility is free of charge provided the results of the research are made generally available in publications. The European XFEL provides capabilities and scientific know-how for external researchers. The start of user operation will mark a big milestone in the commissioning of the 3.4 km long X-ray laser.

The first two instruments in the experiment hall for which proposals can be submitted are the Femtosecond X-Ray Experiments (FXE) instrument and the Single Particles, Clusters, and Biomolecules and Serial Femtosecond Crystallography (SPB/SFX) instrument.

Determining the structure of molecules

FXE enables research into ultrafast processes and the creation of “molecular movies”, which show the progression of an individual reaction with high precision. This will give impulses to many areas of research, including studies of mechanisms of various diseases at the molecular level, energy research or the optimization of chemical processes.

The other instrument, SPB/SFX, is specialized for research into biomolecules and other biological materials. Understanding the atomic-level details of biomolecules can enable the development of new medications and therapies. Scientists will be able to determine structures from tiny crystals of biomolecules with the European XFEL. These crystals will be easier to create than the larger crystals needed for X-ray light sources up to now, which can take years or even decades to produce. The X-ray lasers are expected to pave the way for structural determination of individual, uncrystallised molecules in the medium term.

Four more instruments from 2018

The European XFEL is gradually being put into operation. The next steps include commissioning the accelerator sections, generating X-ray laser light (first lasing), and commissioning the instruments. After the first experiment campaign starting in autumn, the equipment and options for experiments will be increased or improved until the full capabilities of the European XFEL are reached. The current programme for experiments will last two months. The next announcement of experiment time is expected in summer 2017 for experiments in the first half of 2018. From 2018, four more instruments, each of which is dedicated to specific applications and research themes, will be available.

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