Research

World’s biggest X-ray laser generates first beam of light

European XFEL

Scientists at the European XFEL have revealed generation of first ever beam of light by the World’s biggest X-ray laser.

According to scientists involved with the project, the new X-ray laser will enable them and researchers around the world to get a glimpse of new materials, drugs and chemical reactions at the atomic level. The 3.4-kilometre-long European XFEL is mostaly located in underground tunnels in Germany.

The X-ray light has a wavelength of 0.8 nanometre – about 500 times shorter than that of visible light. At first lasing, the laser had a repetition rate of one pulse per second, which will later increase to 27,000 per second. Scientists explain that the achievable laser light wavelength corresponds to the size of an atom and this effectively means that the X-rays can be used to make pictures and films of the nanocosmos at atomic resolution – such as of biomolecules, from which better understanding of the basis of illnesses or the development of new therapies could be developed.

Scientists are optimistic that they will now be able to direct the X-ray flashes with special mirrors through the last tunnel section into the experiment hall, and then step by step start the commissioning of the experiment stations.

The XFEL will provide scientists with most detailed images of the molecular structure of new materials and drugs and novel live recordings of biochemical reactions enabling scientists to research chemical processes and catalytic techniques, with the goal of improving their efficiency or making them more environmentally friendly; materials research; or the investigation of conditions similar to the interior of planets. The X-ray laser light of the European XFEL was generated from an electron beam from a superconducting linear accelerator, the key component of the X-ray laser.

The German research centre DESY, the largest shareholder of the European XFEL, put the accelerator into operation at the end of April. In a 2.1 km long accelerator tunnel, the electron pulses were strongly accelerated and prepared for the later generation of X-ray laser light.

At near-light speed and very high energies, the intense electron pulses entered a photon tunnel containing a 210 metre long stretch of X-ray generating devices.The European XFEL is the largest and most powerful of the five X-ray lasers worldwide, with the ability to generate the short pulses of hard X-ray light.

With more than 27,000 light flashes per second instead of the previous maximum of 120 per second, an extremely high luminosity, and the parallel operation of several experiment stations, it will be possible for scientists investigate more limited samples and perform their experiments more quickly.

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Ravi Mandalia

Ravi Mandalia is a professional technology and science editor with over six years of experience. Ravi has been working with some of the biggest names in online media industry in the UK and US.

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