UK joins World Leading X-Ray Laser Facility

Added: Over a year ago by Science & Technology Facilities Council

19 March 2018 - The UK has today become the latest member state of the European XFEL, the international research facility that is home to the world’s largest X-ray laser.

Sited in Germany the European XFEL is capable of generating 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 three-dimensional “photos” of the nanoworld, “film” chemical reactions as they happen and study processes such as those that occur deep inside planets.

The Large Pixel Detector.

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 is European XFEL’s twelfth member state. The UK’s contribution will amount to 26million Euro, or about 2% of the total construction budget of 1.22 billion Euro (both in 2005 prices) and an annual contribution of about 2% to the operation budget. The UK will be represented in European XFEL by 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 £4.7 billion 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.”

Although not an official shareholder until today 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 STFC. The LPD was installed mid-2017 and is now operational at the instrument for Femtosecond X-ray Experiments (FXE) at European XFEL.

In addition the STFC Central Laser Facility, based at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford in the UK is currently building a nanosecond high energy laser for the High Energy Density (HED) instrument at European XFEL. This new “Dipole” 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 European XFEL accelerator tunnel.

The capabilities offered by XFEL are already opening up entirely new scientific opportunities and this is a very important day for both UK science and STFC. Building on the contributions already made to XFEL by both STFC research and engineering staff and other UK researchers, I look forward with immense interest to see what my fellow UK research colleagues and the XFEL team will discover in the coming years”.

The UK has also developed a training facility at the Diamond Light Source on the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire for British scientists. The UK XFEL life sciences hub will enable users to fully prepare for their experiments with XFELs.

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."