Posted: June 5, 2007

Launch of the European X-ray laser facility

(Nanowerk News) Today, on June 5, 2007, the German Federal Minister of Education and Research Dr. Annette Schavan officially launched the European X-ray laser facility XFEL. “The funding negotiations with the 12 interested countries are so far advanced that the construction of this new research facility, which is very much sought after by the international scientific community, can now begin,” said Schavan in front of representatives of the press and the guests of the launching ceremony. “We can now assume that the commissioning of the first six of ten possible experimental stations will begin in 2013. And we aim to upgrade this initial version as soon as possible to the complete ten-station facility.”
At first, an 850-million-Euro (approx US$1.1 billion) start version of the European XFEL facility, whose total cost is estimated at 1082 million Euros (price levels of 2005), is to be realized in Hamburg and Schenefeld. The 12 international partners (Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the People’s Republic of China, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) will cover at least 25 percent of the costs of this initial version. The German share of at most 75 percent will be born by the federal government and the two host states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. In a communiqué signed during the launching ceremony, the representatives of the partner countries declared: “We are convinced that it is appropriate to begin the construction of the XFEL as quickly as possible in view of the international competition situation.” They also stated their intention to sign a convention on the foundation of an XFEL Limited Liability Company responsible for the construction and operation of the European X-ray laser by the end of 2007.
The European XFEL is an international joint project with a strong connection to the research center DESY in Hamburg. The performance of the XFEL will benefit a wide range of natural sciences – from physics and chemistry to materials science, geological research and the life sciences. It will also open up new perspectives for industrial users, for example for the development of new materials in the nanoworld, i.e. with dimensions measured in billionths of a meter.
The European XFEL, which is based on the superconducting accelerator technology developed at DESY in the last years, will attract scientists and students from various scientific disciplines to Northern Germany. “Today marks a milestone in the history of DESY,” commented the Chairman of the DESY Directorate, Professor Albrecht Wagner. “To see something new, you have to make something new, and this is just what we intend to do together with our international partners at the European XFEL. We are all very pleased that the good cooperation and hard work of many years is now bearing fruit. We are standing in the starting blocks to contribute our knowledge and expertise to the project’s success.” Federal Minister Schavan told the DESY staff: “The construction and operation of the European X-ray laser XFEL will bring completely new challenges for DESY and its international partners. I am convinced that all will take up and rise to these challenges.”
The 3.4-kilometer-long research facility will be located between the site of the German Electron Synchrotron DESY in the Hamburg district of Bahrenfeld and the neighboring town of Schenefeld in Schleswig-Holstein (Pinneberg district). It will begin on the DESY site, where the central supply stations will be situated. The main tunnel for the superconducting electron linear accelerator will take up the first 2.1 kilometers of the 6- to 38-meter-deep tunnel system. On the last kilometer, this tunnel will fan out into five separate tunnels in which the X-ray laser flashes will be generated. Here, the XFEL site Osdorfer Born will be erected with another access point to the tunnel and supply buildings. The underground experimental hall at the end of the facility will be located on the future 15-hectar research campus in Schenefeld, and provide space for ten experimental stations. “Tenders for the construction of the underground tunnel system and the buildings can now be invited at the European level,” said Dr. Andreas Schwarz, DESY physicist and member of the European XFEL Project Team at DESY. “In early 2008, we will then be able to simultaneously start construction on the three future XFEL sites DESY-Bahrenfeld, Osdorfer Born and Schenefeld.”
The XFEL (X stands for X-ray, FEL for free-electron laser) will produce high-intensity ultra-short X-ray flashes with the properties of laser light. This new light source, which can only be described in terms of superlatives, will open up a whole range of new perspectives for the natural sciences. It could also offer very promising opportunities for industrial users. The inconceivably brief and intense X-ray pulses will enable researchers to record what are essentially films with atomic resolution, for example, of how a chemical reaction progresses, how biomolecules move, or how solids are formed. This will benefit a wide range of natural sciences as well as industrial users – for instance for the development of new materials in the nanoworld; i.e., with dimensions measured in billionths of a meter.
The Leader of the European XFEL Project Team, Professor Massimo Altarelli: “The new XFEL X-ray laser facility will be unique in Europe and offer fascinating perspectives for science. For the first time, it will be possible to analyze the different states of matter on the atomic length and time scale. The future users of the XFEL expect results of fundamental importance in fields such as materials science, plasma physics, structural biology, geological research or chemistry, which could pave the way for new applications, e.g. in biomedicine and pharmacy, or for instance for the optimization of combustion and catalysis technologies.”
In February 2003, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research gave the green light for the X-ray laser proposed by DESY, on the condition that it was to be realized as a European project. The X-ray laser will enable leading-edge research in Europe and guarantee a major role for Germany as a location for research and industry. One year ago, the preparations for the XFEL project reached two important milestones: 1) On July 25, 2006, DESY’s XFEL project group and the European XFEL Project Team published the Technical Design Report for the European XFEL facility. On a total of 580 pages, the 270 authors from 69 institutes in 17 countries describe all the scientific and technical details of the research facility. 2) On August 9, 2006, the authority for mining, energy and geology in Clausthal-Zellerfeld, which is in charge of the XFEL public planning approval procedure, published the approval statement comprising the necessary statutory single permissions for the construction and operation of the XFEL facility. On January 24-25, 2007, 260 scientists from 22 nations met at the research center DESY in Hamburg for the first European XFEL Users’ Meeting. This marked the beginning of a series of regular workshops and meetings between the scientists interested in the research opportunities at the XFEL and the planners of the facility. With today’s go-ahead for the realization of the European XFEL with initially six experimental stations, the project enters the next decisive phase.
The planned construction costs amount to 1082 million Euros (price levels of 2005), including the costs for the preparation phase, which has now ended, and for the later test and commissioning phase. The costs for the construction of the facility and the ten experimental stations amount to 986 million Euros (price levels of 2005).
Source: Helmholtz Gemeinschaft
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