An engineer is currently working to convert the Materials Imaging and Dynamics (MID) experimental station. This huge piece of equipment, which extends over several separate rooms, is characterized by astonishing flexibility. The length of the vacuum tube through which the X-ray passes can be varied to between two and eight metres. MID is one of six experimental stations that have gone into operation successfully since the European XFEL Campus opened in Schenefeld in 2017.
The researchers use the X-ray flashes for their trials in the subterranean experimental zone. These ultra short laser flashes are sent from DESY to the campus in Schenefeld along tunnels measuring 3.4 kilometres. The DESY Research Centre in Bahrenfeld is the most important partner of the European XFEL international project. The 440-strong workforce consists of no less than 49 different nationalities. More than 200 are scientists and three quarters are men.
Schleswig-Holstein approves funds for visitor’s centre
Scientists at MID investigate, for instance, the structure of fluids and glasses. The aim is to get to know their properties so well that materials can be tailor-made on the basis of these findings. The fact that the six experimental stations initially planned have now all been implemented represents a major success, said Bernd Ebeling, Press Officer at European XFEL. One currently outstanding challenge lies in achieving full operation of all the stations simultaneously.
Public interest in the scientists’ work is considerable. An initial open day in May 2018 drew more than 2,500 visitors to Schenefeld. Apart from that, international delegations, students and school groups are being given tours of the campus, which will change in future. In late 2018, the state of Schleswig-Holstein gave European XFEL the go-ahead and approved funds for a visitors’ centre, which will house an exhibition demonstrating the use of the technology developed by the research facility.
“Beam time” awarded according to scientific excellence
Around 400 people are employed at the campus in addition to research groups from all over the world who conduct experiments there. The so-called “beam time”, as the X-ray radiation time available to users is called, is awarded according to scientific excellence. Scientists then have a week in each case for their work backed by permanent staff. This is used intensively in day and night shifts lasting 12 hours.
Three floors underground, in one of the “experimental cabins” – as the rooms in which the six stations have been installed are called – Ulf Zastrau is at work on High Energy Density (HED science. Materials are investigated under extreme conditions. Using high-intensity lasers, the researchers can, for instance, investigate conditions comparable with the cores of exoplanets. Extremely practical matters that are important to industry can be investigated as well, such as working with materials that are cut or welded by laser.
Exclusive rights for three years
Staff withdraw to a kind of control room when the laser is beamed down the vacuum tube to avoid the radiation. “It is important for us to have top scientists here on location, so that we are able to predict the demands that could be placed on our technology in two or three years’ time and to ensure that it is fully ready,” Zastrau said. For this reason, the scientists from Schenefeld are also involved in publications arising from the findings made at European XFEL. The researchers own the exclusive rights to their results for three years after the experiments. After that they must be opened up to the public.
Importance of collaboration with industry
An Industrial Liaison Office, led by the engineer Antonio Bonucci, has been set up to give companies an opportunity to acquire advanced knowledge. Contacts are established with businesses and start-ups and to stimulate exchange. An increasing number of institutions, whose main purpose is research, are going down the route of co-operating with industry. Nevertheless, maximizing income cannot be the benchmark for measuring collaboration of this kind, Bonucci believes, and noted: “The mutual learning process between the companies and our scientists and engineers within the context of innovation is always the priority for us here.”
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