On June 2013 an important milestone was reached for the European X-ray free-electron laser [XFEL] with the completion of its underground portion. Located in the Hamburg area (Germany), the European XFEL is one of the largest and most ambitious European projects to date. Starting full operations in 2016, the European XFEL is expected to generate intensive, ultrashort X-ray flashes that will open up entirely new areas of research with X-rays that are currently inaccessible.
Organisations from 12 European countries Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. are members of the European XFEL consortium, with the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron [DESY] as the main shareholder. The total length of the facility will be 3.4km and the final complex will consist of a tunnel system as well as several buildings on the campus of DESY in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld, at the Osdorfer Born site, and on the main Schenefeld site. The tunnels will open into a 4,500m2 underground experiment hall, with dimensions comparable to those of a hockey field.
On the DESY campus in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld, a 2km long accelerator tunnel leads to the Osdorfer Born site. A particle accelerator will be located in this tunnel. Here, electrons will be accelerated to almost the speed of light. Then, the fast particles will be distributed to the so-called photon tunnels, where X-ray light will be produced. For this purpose, the European XFEL will use the undulators – periodic arrangements of magnets that force the electrons onto a tight slalom course. In the curves, the particles will emit light flashes. The course will be set in such a way that the light flashes — as in a laser — reinforce each other to an intense pulse. The five photon tunnels end in the underground experiment hall, where the X-ray flashes will be guided to up to 15 scientific instruments.
Producing 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, the European XFEL will bring completely new opportunities for science. For instance, researchers will be able to map the atomic details of viruses and even film ultrafast processes such as the formation of molecules.
Next year, the construction of the main building of the European XFEL will continue together with the installation of the infrastructure, scientific instruments, and technical equipment. The remaining buildings will be completed in 2015, and the new X-ray laser will start user operation in 2016.
For more information, please visit the European XFEL website.