40 metres below ground in North Germany, the world’s most powerful x-ray laser is being built. The European XFEL – one of the biggest research projects in Europe. The tunnel facility is 3.4 kilometres long, and from 2017 the massive x-ray lamp will be able to make the tiniest atoms and molecules visible. These unique x-ray flashes can be used by top researchers and open up completely new fields of scientific research.
Dr. Suren Karabekyan, Physicist:
“It would be fair to compare our project with a massive microscope... it allows us to carry out research in many different directions.... for example, research into severe illnesses, and the development of new drugs.“
Suren Karabekyan is from Armenia, and he’s responsible for the core elements of the laser: the undulators. They direct the accelerated electrons in the tunnel so that they produce extremely strong and short flashes, becoming the brightest source of light in the world. The smallest molecules in the world can then be captured on camera in the soccer-field sized experiment hall at the end of the tunnel.
Monica Turcato is developing those cameras. The Italian heeded the call from Hamburg, and now she lives here with her whole family. It’s her dream job.
Dr. Monica Turcato, Detector Researcher:
"Now I am working in the detector group here in XFEL. That means that we are supposed to provide the scientists with the instruments that will record the X-rays… The requirements of these detectors are different to that of a normal camera, because we have to acquire really up to 27.000 images per second. So for me as a scientist who wants to learn always more working for something which is never been built and there is no equal is really exciting."
Germany already has a cluster of top research projects into laser technology, and the European XFEL adds an international research campus. Eleven countries are already on board, and the investment is worth more than half a billion euros. It’s a world class project, and half of the staff are from outside Germany.
Dr. Suren Karabekyan, Physicist:
“No limits are imposed on scientists here. You can come to the laboratory anytime, work there, and work as much as you like, or need to to achieve your goals. It’s a kind of paradise for scientists.“
Dr. Adrian Mancuso, Lead Scientist:
“The weather is heaps nicer in Australia and I am still here and I lived here for a while and I intend to stay here. And that’s because the x-ray laser is a unique opportunity to do this kind of science and to develop imaging and structural sciences with X-rays in the world.”
The European XFEL will be booting up in 2017 and it’s hoped the flashes it produces will shine a light on hitherto unknown areas of science.