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United Kingdom becomes shareholder in the world's largest X-ray laser

21 November 2018

The UK has officially become a shareholder of European XFEL GmbH, the company that builds and runs the world’s largest X-ray laser in Schenefeld near Hamburg.

This facility offers UK researchers access to the most advanced crystallography technology in the world, allowing them to use serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX), a cutting-edge technique that can determine the three-dimensional shape of biological molecules at high resolution and incredible speeds.

The UK is the European XFEL’s twelfth partner and by becoming a shareholder the UK now has full voting rights in the company’s governing body, the European XFEL Council. The UK shares amount to 2.1% of the company’s total shares, corresponding to the UK contributions of over £35m to the total European XFEL construction and operation budgets. Those contributions also include new equipment for the facility that was developed and built by the UK. This overall support ensures scientists based in the UK have access to these world leading facilities.

Professor Mark Thomson, STFC’s Executive Chair, said: “Todays signing 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. Over the last ten years the UK has worked with our colleagues in European XFEL on bringing UK expertise to bear on supplying key pieces of equipment for the facility. I await with immense interest to see what UK researchers will discover from working with European XFEL”.

European XFEL Managing Director Prof. Robert Feidenhans’l said: “We are very pleased that the UK has today formalized their commitment to European XFEL and are now on board as shareholders. We have already established a very strong and productive collaboration and we look forward to working together even closer in the future.”

The UK already contributes significantly to European XFEL, for instance with a high energy laser that is being used to recreate the conditions found within planets and an STFC team developed and built the advanced Large Pixel Detector (LPD), a cutting-edge X-ray “camera” capable of capturing images in billionths of a second, that was installed at XFEL in 2017.

Find out more


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 is 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: 21 November 2018


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