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  • Handing over the keys to the Large Pixel Detector, from left to right: STFC Technology Department Division Head Marcus French, European XFEL Detector Group Leader Dr Markus Kuster, European XFEL Managing Director Professor Dr Robert Feidenhans'l and STFC Application Engineer Matthew Hart. (Credit: European XFEL)
  • The European XFEL accelerator tunnel.(Credit: European XFEL)

Largest International X-ray Laser Facility Open to Users

Oct 21 2017 Read 358 Times

The official inauguration of the world’s largest X-ray laser at the European XFEL during September, marked the start of user operation at this international research centre after eight years of construction.

Located in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, European XFEL is capable of generating extremely intense X-ray laser flashes that will offer new research opportunities for scientists across the world.

UK scientists at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) have played a significant role in the creation of XFEL, by designing and developing the Large Pixel Detector (LPD) – an X-ray camera capable of capturing ultrafast processes in billionths of a second – which is the first advanced detector to be installed at the Hamburg facility. The LPD was developed at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford.

Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of STFC, said: “This is a significant milestone for the European XFEL and we are delighted to make such an important contribution to the project. International collaborations are key to developing these state-of-the-art facilities and this work reinforces the international role STFC and the UK has in science. It’s an extremely exciting time for the XFEL facility, and I am looking forward to seeing the first experiments taking place.”

The LPD is the first fully functional X-ray light detector to record at a rate of 4.5 MHz—4.5 million pictures per second, fast enough to keep up with the European XFEL’s high repetition rate of 27,000 pulses per second, which are arranged into short bursts. The LPD will allow users to take clear snapshots of ultrafast processes such as chemical reactions as they take place.

STFC’s Matthew Hart, the lead engineer who has worked on the LPD since 2007, said: “It’s such a great feeling to see the detector installed ready for experiments. It’s taken 10 years of development to meet some really challenging requirements and finally the day has arrived to see it working for real.”

In addition to the LPD from its Technology Division, STFC’s Central Laser Facility is currently building a DiPOLE100 laser for the European XFEL (directly funded by STFC and EPSRC), where it will be used to recreate the conditions found within stars.

The UK will soon be extending its relationship with XFEL by signing a partnership agreement, allowing UK researchers access to the facility through an STFC-managed subscription. The formal procedures of accession for the UK to join XFEL are underway. In anticipation of this being completed in the coming months the UK has already contributed the majority of its commitment towards the construction costs of the facility.

Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of STFC, said: “The UK, through STFC, is already contributing a great deal to this project in terms of equipment and expertise and we are looking forward to ratifying formally the UK’s involvement in XFEL. XFEL offers many exciting opportunities to the research community and STFC is delighted to support the UK’s involvement with this international facility. Being asked to design and build significant technological infrastructure for XFEL is recognition of the leading reputation STFC’s technology and engineering teams have on the world’s stage.”

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