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European XFEL

European XFEL Free-Electron Laser Facility

The European XFEL is a new, powerful X-ray laser currently under construction in northern Germany. With the start of user operation in the autumn 2017, it will provide scientists from all over the world with 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. Thanks to its worldwide unique characteristics, the facility will open up completely new research opportunities for scientists and industrial users.

The European XFEL is a 3.4-kilometre-long facility located mainly in underground tunnels. It runs from the DESY research centre in the city of Hamburg into the neighbouring German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein. The construction and operation of the facility has been entrusted to an independent research organization, the European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser Facility GmbH (European XFEL GmbH), a non-profit limited liability company under German law that has international shareholders. It was founded on 28 September 2009 and has a workforce of about 300 people. At present, 11 countries are participating in the European XFEL: Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The United Kingdom has stated its intention to join as the twelfth member state.

The European XFEL is being realised as a joint effort of many partners. To this end, the European XFEL GmbH cooperates closely with the DESY research centre and other organizations worldwide. Construction started in early 2009; the beginning of commissioning is planned for 2016, and first experiments should start in 2017. To a great extent, the European XFEL facility was realised by means of in-kind contributions by shareholders and partners.

Generation of X-ray laser flashes in an undulator
Generation of X-ray laser flashes in an undulator (© European XFEL (Design: Marc Hermann, tricklabor))

The European XFEL facility consists of a superconducting linear particle accelerator that boosts electrons to high energies. The electrons are then directed through long, special arrangements of magnets (undulators) in which they emit extremely short and intense X-ray flashes with laser properties. These X-ray flashes are then distributed to initially three beamlines with six experiment stations.

Using the European XFEL’s brilliant X-ray radiation, physicists, chemists, biologists, and other scientists from all over the world will be able to map the atomic details of viruses, decipher the molecular composition of cells, take three-dimensional images of the nanoworld, film chemical reactions, study processes such as those occurring deep inside planets, and more. The new X-ray laser facility will open up areas of research that were previously inaccessible and thus benefit a whole range of scientific fields – among them medicine, pharmacy, chemistry, physics, materials science, nanotechnology, energy technology, and electronics.