Europe, New Most Powerful X-Ray Facility In A 3.4km Tunnel Will Open The Doors To A ‘New World’

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european xfel
European XFEL

It’s in German, it’s been opened on 1st September 2017 and will start user operation in mid month. It’s the world’s largest, most advanced and powerful laser humanity has ever built and it’s been called XFEL (X-ray free-electron laser).

XFEL is an X-ray research laser facility commissioned during 2017. An international project that gathered 11 participating countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). If you want to see it, you must travel to Hamburg, Germany and enter a 3.4km long tunnel.

In here, they built a superconducting linear accelerator and photon beamlines. A giant ‘cave’ created 6 to 38m (20 to 125 ft) underground, and that runs from the site of the DESY research centre in Hamburg to the town of Schenefeld in Schleswig-Holstein.

From mid September men will be able to measure chemical reactions never captures before because of their speed. No other previous methods succeeded…until now.

How does it work?

The European XFEL generates extremely intense X-ray flashes that researchers from all over the world can use. The flashes are produced underground and thanks to them, scientists will be finally able to map atomic details of viruses, film chemical reactions, and study the processes in the interior of planets.

european xfel underground
European XFEL

“The European XFEL is a unique facility that will open the door to new areas of science.” European XFEL Managing Director Prof. Dr. Robert Feidenhans’l said.

Started as a vision and set just in motion at DESY over 20 years ago, this innovative project has now become a reality. “This is the world’s most powerful laser for X-ray light.” Prof. Dr. Helmut Dosch, Chairman of the DESY Board of Directors, said.

“The nanocosmos may have no more secrets and this most advanced high-speed camera could lead to exciting, fundamental and revolutionary results”, Dr. Dosch added.

How can this facility do all of this?

The European XFEL generates up to 27,000 pulses per second, which means 200 times more than an ‘ordinary’ X-ray laser. Specialised instruments complete the extraordinary process by allowing the facility to have new insights into the atomic details and catch the extremely fast processes going on in the nanoworld.

More precisely, the reaction will be triggered by an ultrashort pulse of visible light, while an X-ray flash, timed to reach the sample after the reaction is triggered, records the state of the molecule at that moment in time, scientists explained.

Can we be more pragmatic and tell some practical uses? Yes we can.

european xfel inside
European XFEL

The X-ray flashes can be used to map the three-dimensional structure of biomolecules and other biological particles and will do that very fast and with incredible details. Further more, the single snapshots of particles can be sewn together to create “molecular movies”. In this way, scientists can study the progress of biochemical and chemical reactions: not just how a reaction started and ended, but also how it worked.

In other worlds, we will be able to:

  • create new medicines and therapies;
  • develop new materials and substances;
  • extract energy from sunlight with environmentally friendlier production methods and processes;
  • optimise the storage media of computers;
  • investigate on extreme matter conditions such as those within exoplanets.

As said before, the facility was officially inaugurated at the beginning of the month. It was an international event with musical and enlightening highlights in front of 800 guests and you can see the ceremony on this video.

Which innovation will we create now? Let’s wait and time will reveal the answer.

Credits: European XFEL

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