This website has been developed and is being maintained on behalf of ESFRI by the StR-ESFRI project which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement n° 654213
The first superconducting hard X-ray Free-Electron Laser for life and materials sciences
The European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser (European XFEL) will be the world leading facility for the production of high repetition rate ultra-short X-ray flashes with a brilliance that is a billion times higher than that of the best conventional synchrotron X-ray radiation sources. The European XFEL is opening up areas of research that were previously inaccessible. Using the X-ray flashes of the European XFEL, scientists will be able to map the atomic details of viruses, decipher the molecular composition of cells, take three-dimensional images of the nanoworld, film chemical reactions, and study processes such as those occurring deep inside planets.
The European XFEL is organized as a non-profit company with limited liability under German law (GmbH) that has international shareholders. The international European XFEL project – with 12 participating countries – is being operated in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein since October 2017.
X-ray free-electron lasers (FELs) are accelerator based light sources that generate extremely brilliant and ultra-short, from few to 100 femtoseconds (fs) pulses of transversely coherent X-rays with very short wavelengths (down to ~ 0.05 nm). The goal is to exploit these X-rays for revolutionary scientific experiments in a variety of disciplines, including physics, chemistry, materials science, and biology. In the US and Japan, FELs are based on room-temperature linear accelerators (warm-LINACS). In Europe, the European XFEL Facility exploits the superconducting linear accelerator technology (cold-LINAC). This technology allows for a very large number of pulses per second, in the case of the European XFEL up to 27.000 pulses per second. Electron bunches are accelerated to high energies (up to 17.5 GeV) in a ~2 km LINAC and then passed through (up to 200 m long) undulators, where they will generate bursts of coherent X-rays through the self-amplified spontaneous emission (SASE) process. Initially, 3 photon beamlines and 6 instruments are being built. Eventually, 5 photon beamlines and 10 experimental stations will enable experiments ranging from coherent diffraction imaging to spectroscopy and exploit the high intensity, coherence, and time structure of the new source.
Some expected scientific benefits will consist in studying molecular configuration rearrangements during chemical reactions down to the sub-picosecond (ps) scale, observing the dynamics of fluctuations on unprecedented time and length scales, providing experimental access to regions of the phase diagram of materials currently found only in astrophysical environments. A fascinating perspective benefit is the investigation of the structure of individual macromolecules down to atomic resolution, without the need for crystallization.
The European XFEL facility expands the leading position of Europe in accelerator based X-ray sources, that are pushing the frontiers of condensed matter physics, materials science, chemistry, structural biology and pharmacology. The specific developments in detector and accelerator technology generate innovation and know-how transfer to industry. The expected fundamental research breakthroughs in materials sciences, chemistry and catalysis, and macromolecular structure, will also generate innovation.
The European XFEL provides an opportunity to educate a new generation of scientists to address the frontiers of research on nano-scale materials, and this in a multi-national, open environment, promoting the European dimension of knowledge and its international mobility. Consortia are created among European universities and research centres to develop instrumentation for the facility, impacting the coordination of efforts in the fields of research related with health issues, energy and environment.
European XFEL GmbH