UK joins World Leading X-Ray Laser Facility

HMA to Germany Sir Sebastian Wood signing the protocol on behalf of the UK

HMA to Germany Sir Sebastian Wood signing the protocol on behalf of the UK
(Credit: Buddy Bartelsen for British Embassy Berlin)

19 March 2018 - The UK has today become the latest member state of the European XFEL, the international research facility that is home to the world’s largest X-ray laser.

Sited in Germany the European XFEL is capable of generating extremely intense X-ray laser flashes that offer new research opportunities for scientists across the world. Its range of capabilities include enabling researchers to  take three-dimensional “photos” of the nanoworld, “film” chemical reactions as they happen and study processes such as those that occur deep inside planets.

In a ceremony at the British Embassy in Berlin, representatives of the UK government and the other contract parties, including the German federal government, signed the documents to join the European XFEL Convention. The UK is European XFEL’s twelfth member state. The UK’s contribution will amount to 26million Euro, or about 2% of the total construction budget of 1.22 billion Euro (both in 2005 prices) and an annual contribution of about 2% to the operation budget. The UK will be represented in European XFEL by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) as shareholder.

UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah said:

“The incredible XFEL laser will help us better understand life threatening diseases by using one of the world’s most powerful X-ray machines. Working with our international partners, the super-strength laser will help develop new medical treatments and therapies, potentially saving thousands of lives across the world.

“Through our modern Industrial Strategy we are investing an extra £4.7 billion into research and development. I am determined that we continue to secure our position as being a world-leader in science, research and innovation and I can’t wait to see the results that come from our participation in this extraordinary project.”

The Large Pixel Detector

The Large Pixel Detector
(Credit: European XFEL)

Although not an official shareholder until today the UK has been involved with XFEL since 2008 through both collaboration on technology and the two XFEL User Consortia. The first advanced detector to be installed at the European XFEL, the Large Pixel Detector (LPD), a cutting-edge X-ray “camera” capable of capturing images in billionths of a second, was developed and built by STFC. The LPD was installed mid-2017 and is now operational at the instrument for Femtosecond X-ray Experiments (FXE) at European XFEL.

In addition the STFC Central Laser Facility, based at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford in the UK is currently building a nanosecond high energy laser for the High Energy Density (HED) instrument at European XFEL. This new “Dipole” laser will be used to recreate the conditions found within stars.

Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of STFC, said:

“As the UK becomes a full member of XFEL it opens up areas of research for British scientists at the atomic, molecular and nanoscale level that are currently inaccessible. This signing today reinforces our continued strategy to ensure UK science remains at the very forefront of global research by collaborating with the best scientists in the world and using the best facilities.

The capabilities offered by XFEL are already opening up entirely new scientific opportunities and this is a very important day for both UK science and STFC. Building on the contributions already made to XFEL by both STFC research and engineering staff and other UK researchers, I look forward with immense interest to see what my fellow UK research colleagues and the XFEL team will discover in the coming years”.

The European XFEL accelerator tunnel

The European XFEL accelerator tunnel
(Credit: European XFEL)

The UK has also developed a training facility at the Diamond Light Source on the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire for British scientists. The UK XFEL life sciences hub will enable users to fully prepare for their experiments with XFELs.

Chair of the European XFEL Council Professor Martin Meedom Nielsen who was present at the signing said:

"All member states are very happy that the United Kingdom now officially joins the European XFEL. The UK science community has been very active in the project since the very beginning, and their contribution of ideas and know-how has always been highly appreciated. Together, we will maintain and develop the European XFEL as a world leading facility for X-ray science."


The XFEL image and media database can be accessed at: XFEL Media and Video Database

Media contact:

Jake Gilmore
STFC Media Manager

Notes to Editors

European XFEL

The European XFEL is an international research facility of superlatives: 27,000 X-ray flashes per second and a brilliance that is a billion times higher than that of the best conventional X-ray sources will open up completely new opportunities for science. The construction and operation of the facility is entrusted to the European XFEL GmbH, a non-profit company that co-operates closely with the research centre DESY and other organisations worldwide.

With construction and commissioning costs of 1.22 billion euro (at 2005 price levels) and a total length of 3.4 kilometres, the European XFEL is one of the largest and most ambitious European research projects to date.

View the European XFEL website for more information.


In December 2014 the UK government announced that the UK would invest up to £30M (about 38 M€) to become a full member of the European XFEL as the result of the input received to the BIS Capital Consultation exercise. The UK has today become the 12th member of the European XFEL project.

Read more on STFC's contribution to the European XFEL.

Diamond and XFEL

The UK, through the STFC-funded Diamond Light Source, is also the host for the UK’s XFEL hub. Housed within the existing Diamond infrastructure, the hub is enabling users to fully prepare for their experiments with currently operating XFELs and the European XFEL. The UK Hub (which is directly supported by MRC, BBSRC and the Wellcome Trust) is providing support in terms of sample preparation, data processing and training. There will also be a dedicated fibre link from Hamburg to Harwell enabling users to carry out data analysis back in the UK, with support from the UK Hub team.

Read more about the UK’s XFEL hub on the Diamond website.

Last updated: 20 March 2018


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