World's fastest soft X-ray camera now in metropolitan region

European XFEL's DSSC detector holds potential for medicine and energy via ultra-fast imaging
03 December 2019
Desy European XFEL

Researchers first have to unlock a highly-secured door 14 metres below the Earth’s surface to unveil the world’s fastest soft X-ray camera called the DSSC detector. The camera is the latest of three developed especially for European XFEL and was installed in Schenefeld this spring. 

Huge amounts of data created

The idea for this globally unique project emerged in 2006: “European XFEL had initiated a development programme in which DESY and various international partners were involved,” said Dr. Markus Kuster, head of the detector group at European XFEL, during a visit by Hamburg News. By using each X-ray flash of XFEL, different samples can be examined ultra-fast using the technology. The five cameras weighing half a ton each can deliver *4.5 million images per second and provide highly detailed insight into the processes which change biological samples are subjected to under extreme conditions e.g. pressure, temperature or magnetic fields. The detector is part of the Instrument for Spectroscopy and Coherent Scattering (SCS) and helps understand extremely fast processes in different materials.

DSSC is the result of a co-operation between the European XFEL and various international partners. DESY, the University of Heidelberg, the University of Bergamo, the Italian research company Istituto Nazionale, Fisica Nucleare (INFN) and the Technical University Politecnico di Milano were involved in its development. The group, led by Kuster, comprises about 25 people. Other groups are involved in data processing, which in view of the huge data volumes of 13 gigabytes per second delivered by DSSC, is a huge challenges, he pointed out. 

Artificial photosynthesis for power generation

Three different technologies were developed during the programme, “We hoped that at least one would be successful,” says Kuster. But all three work and have been used in experiments at European XFEL, which is great success for the institution. But the scientists’ work is not done yet. “We’re always thinking about the next generation and wondering what other (industrial) areas of application there might be,” says Kuster. Viruses and bacteria can be examined with the new cameras. “Medicines can be improved in this way,” Kuster explained. Although this is still a future vision, artificial photosynthesis may yet be created with the help of the X-ray cameras’ findings. “If we know exactly how energy is produced in a plant, we may adopt this type of energy production and use it for electricity production.