1 September 2017
The global science community is celebrating the official inauguration of the world’s largest X-ray laser at the international research facility, the European XFEL. This event marks the start of user operation after eight years of construction.
European XFEL is located in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, and is capable of generating extremely intense X-ray laser flashes that will offer new research opportunities for scientists across the world.
UK scientists at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) have played a significant role in the creation of XFEL, by designing and creating the Large Pixel Detector (LPD) – a cutting edge X-ray camera that can capture images of ultrafast processes such as chemical reactions.
In addition to the LPD, designed and built by STFC’s Technology Division, STFC’s Central Laser Facility is currently building a DiPOLE100 laser for the European XFEL (directly funded by STFC and EPSRC), where it will be used to recreate the conditions found within stars.
The UK will soon be extending its relationship with XFEL by signing a partnership agreement, allowing UK researchers access to the facility through an STFC-managed subscription. The formal procedures of accession for the UK to join XFEL are underway. In anticipation of this being completed in the coming months the UK has already contributed the majority of its commitment towards the construction costs of the facility.
Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of STFC, said: “The UK, through STFC, is already contributing a great deal to this project in terms of equipment and expertise, and we are looking forward to ratifying formally the UK’s involvement in XFEL. XFEL offers many exciting opportunities to the research community and STFC is delighted to support the UK’s involvement with this international facility.
“Being asked to design and build significant technological infrastructure for XFEL is recognition of the leading reputation STFC’s technology and engineering teams have on the world’s stage.”
STFC Media office
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. Research groups from around the world will be able to map the atomic details of viruses, decipher the molecular composition of cells, take three-dimensional “photos” of the nanoworld, “film” chemical reactions, and study processes such as those occurring deep inside planets. The construction and operation of the facility is entrusted to the European XFEL GmbH, a non-profit company that cooperates closely with the research centre DESY and other organisations worldwide.
The company, which has a workforce of about 300 employees, entered in its operating phase on 4 July and has selected the first 14 groups of scientists to carry out their ambitious research projects at the facility from September 2017, including a team from the UK. 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. At present, 11 countries have signed the European XFEL convention: Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The United Kingdom is in the process of joining.
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 will become the 12th member of the European XFEL project and STFC is now working with the European XFEL project and the other partners to negotiate UK membership.
The UK, through STFC-funded Diamond Light Source, is also the host for the UK’s XFEL hub. Housed within the existing Diamond infrastructure, the hub will enable users to fully prepare for their experiments with currently operating XFELs and the European XFEL when it comes online in Hamburg in 2017. The UK Hub (which is directly supported by MRC, BBSRC and the Wellcome Trust) will provide 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.