UK joins world leading X-ray laser facility

UK joins world leading X-ray laser facility
© British Embassy Berlin

The UK has become the latest member state of the European XFEL, the international research facility that is home to the world’s largest X-ray laser.

The European XFEL can generate extremely intense X-ray laser flashes that offer new research opportunities for scientists across the world. Its range of capabilities include:

  • Enabling researchers to take 3-D ‘photos’ of the nanoworld;
  • ‘Film’ chemical reactions as they happen; and
  • Study processes such as those that occur deep inside planets.

In a ceremony at the British Embassy in Berlin, representatives of the UK government and the other contract parties, including the German federal government, signed the documents to join the European XFEL Convention. The UK, the twelfth member state, will contribute €26m, around 2% of the total construction budget of €1.22bn.

Representation of the UK in the European XFEL will come from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) as shareholder.

UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: “The incredible XFEL laser will help us better understand life threatening diseases by using one of the world’s most powerful X-ray machines. Working with our international partners, the super-strength laser will help develop new medical treatments and therapies, potentially saving thousands of lives across the world.

“Through our modern industrial strategy, we are investing an extra £4.7bn into research and development. I am determined that we continue to secure our position as being a world-leader in science, research and innovation and I can’t wait to see the results that come from our participation in this extraordinary project.”

The UK as a shareholder

Although not an official shareholder until yesterday (19 March), the UK has been involved with XFEL since 2008 through both collaboration on technology and the two XFEL User Consortia. The first advanced detector to be installed at the European XFEL – the Large Pixel Detector (LPD) – a cutting-edge X-ray camera capable of capturing images in billionths of a second, was developed and built by the STFC.

The LPD was installed mid-2017 and is now operational at the instrument for Femtosecond X-ray Experiments (FXE) at the European XFEL.

Additionally, the STFC Central Laser Facility, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK, is currently building a nanosecond high energy laser for the High Energy Density (HED) instrument at European XFEL. This new laser will be used to recreate the conditions found within stars.

Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of STFC, said: “As the UK becomes a full member of XFEL it opens up areas of research for British scientists at the atomic, molecular and nanoscale level that are currently inaccessible. This signing today reinforces our continued strategy to ensure UK science remains at the very forefront of global research by collaborating with the best scientists in the world and using the best facilities.”

The UK has also developed a training facility at the Diamond Light Source on the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire for British scientists, allowing users to fully prepare for their experiments with XFEL x-ray laser.

Chair of the European XFEL Council Professor Martin Meedom Nielsen who was present at the signing, said: “All member states are very happy that the United Kingdom now officially joins the European XFEL. The UK science community has been very active in the project since the very beginning, and their contribution of ideas and know-how has always been highly appreciated. Together, we will maintain and develop the European XFEL as a world leading facility for X-ray science.”

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