The European XFEL, the world’s biggest X-ray laser and located in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region, has reached the last major milestone before the official opening in September, a press release said Thursday. The 3.4 km long facility, most of which is located in underground tunnels, has generated its first X-ray laser light. The X-ray light has a wavelength of 0.8 nm – about 500 times shorter than that of visible light. At first lasing, the laser had a repetition rate of one pulse per second, which will later increase to 27,000 per second.
Official opening in September
Katharina Fegebank, Senator for Science, Research and Equality, said: “Researchers at European XFEL, DESY and at many international partners have successfully reached the last major milestone with the first lasing. This highlights once again the good co-operation at the research centre in Hamburg. Now, I am looking forward to the offical opening in September. The European XFEL will finally become the ‘place to be’ for scientists worldwide and make the Hamburg Metropolitan Region a world leader in X-ray light research.“
Diverse applications for XFEL
The European XFEL’s X-ray laser light is extremely intense and a billion times brighter than that of conventional synchrotron light sources. The achievable laser light wavelength corresponds to the size of an atom, meaning that the X-rays can be used to make pictures and films of the nanocosmos at atomic resolutions – such as of biomolecules, from which better understanding of the basis of illnesses or the development of new therapies can be developed. Other opportunities include research into chemical processes and catalytic techniques to improve their efficiency or make them more environmentally friendly; materials research; or the investigation of conditions similar to the interior of planets.
Successful European collaboration
Prof. Robert Feidenhans’l, Managing Director of European XFEL, noted: “This is an important moment that our partners and we have worked towards for many years. The European XFEL has generated its first X-ray laser light. The facility, to which many countries around the world contributed know-how and components, has passed its first big test with flying colours. The colleagues involved at European XFEL, DESY, and our international partners have accomplished outstanding work. This is also a great success for scientific collaboration in Europe and across the world. We can now begin to direct the X-ray flashes with special mirrors through the last tunnel section into the experiment hall, and then step by step start the commissioning of the experiment stations. I very much look forward to the start of international user operation, which is planned for September.”
The X-ray laser light was generated by an electron beam from a superconducting linear accelerator, the key component of the X-ray laser. The German research centre DESY, the largest shareholder of the European XFEL, put the accelerator into operation in late April. The 3.4 km long European XFEL is the largest and most powerful of the five X-ray lasers worldwide, with the ability to generate the short pulses of hard X-ray light. More than 27,000 light flashes per second instead of the previous maximum of 120 per second, an extremely high luminosity, and the parallel operation of several experiment stations will allow scientists to investigate more limited samples and perform faster experiments. The facility will increase the amount of “beamtime” available, as the capacity at other X-ray lasers worldwide has been eclipsed by demand, and facilities have been overbooked.
The X-ray laser is due to be officially opened in early September. Then, external users can perform experiments at the first two of six scientific instruments.
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