European XFEL celebrates 5 years of user operation

New instrument station will further expand scientific opportunities

European XFEL has celebrated its fifth anniversary of user operation and began the commissioning of a new instrument in the presence of State Secretary Judith Pirscher from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Senator Katharina Fegebank from the Hamburg Authority for Science, Research, Equality and Districts, and around 150 guests and staff.

Group photo from left to right: Manuel Izquierdo (SXP, EuXFEL), Massimo Altarelli (former managing director EuXFEL), Reinhard Brinkmann and Wim Leemans (both DESY), Nicole Elleuche and Robert Feidenhans'l (both EuXFEL), Judith Pirscher (BMBF), Katharina Fegebank (Hamburg), Christian Harringa (DESY) and Matthias Wilmanns (EMBL) (Picture: © EuXFEL)

State Secretary Pirscher says, “The European XFEL is a great success. The 850 million euros provided for its construction by the BMBF so far is a solid investment. With this, we are strengthening not only basic research, but also the technological sovereignty of both Germany and Europe. Today, we are putting the seventh instrument into operation. Thanks to the SXP instrument, we can now enable even more cutting-edge research. Researchers can bring their own experimental setups and make use of new techniques. This will open up major opportunities in medicine, energy and new materials. For example, we expect that this new facility will provide vital new findings to advance battery technology and the transformation of our energy system.”

Senator Fegebank adds, “After five years, Hamburg's scientific landscape is unimaginable without the European XFEL. Here, excellent researchers from all over the world work on interdisciplinary solutions for a better tomorrow. That makes the European XFEL a great example of how scientific cooperation contributes to the international appeal of our science location. I would like to thank all those who have been part of the success of the European XFEL over the past five years through their curiosity, thirst for research and personal commitment. And I am very pleased to reach yet another milestone with today's opening of the new experimental station.”

The facility was officially opened to operations on 1 September 2017 and has since been the most technologically advanced X-ray laser world-wide, with users from across the world taking advantage of its unique research opportunities.

The European XFEL delivers high-energy X-ray flashes at a rate of 27 000 pulses per second in an X-ray laser beam that can be focused down to a diameter of just 11 nanometres, roughly the size of a protein molecule. The large number of pulses per second makes European XFEL unique in its class, enabling a higher rate of data acquisition than at any other large XFEL.

In the past five years, European XFEL has significantly expanded its experimental capabilities and the portfolio available to users. The facility has received 1062 research proposals, delivered over 16 300 hours of ‘beam time’ to over 4000 researchers, and produced 60 million terabytes of experimental data. Its performance has also grown year on year, going from providing 1356 hours of beam time in 2018, to almost 4500 hours in the first half of 2022 alone.

“We have grown rapidly both in terms of our capacity and in terms of our experimental capabilities in the last five years,” says European XFEL managing director Robert Feidenhans’l. “We have been able to bring together more and more users to European XFEL, forming collaborations that allow us to target some of the biggest challenges we face in society, from health to the environment. We want to continue this successful development throughout the coming years.”

“In a unique piece of teamwork of accelerator staff at DESY, beamline scientists at European XFEL and users from around the globe, in combination with a robust technical design which we developed over almost 20 years, we were able to establish European XFEL very quickly as the world-leading XFEL facility with an impressive scientific output,” says Wim Leemans, Director of the Accelerator Division at DESY. “And we are far from the end in pushing the limits of this promising machine.”

European XFEL now hosts seven instruments for experiments, a significant expansion from the two instruments available in 2017. These instruments contribute to the facility’s mission to tackle global challenges in energy, climate, health and technology research. For example, European XFEL scientists are helping develop better understanding of the structural biology of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, potentially enabling pharmaceutical companies to produce more effective antibiotics. They are also conducting experiments on magnetic samples, uncovering new insights into data storage and stability. Some of European XFEL’s research even takes us to distant gas-giant planets, allowing scientists to probe the behavior of matter under extreme conditions using specialized diamond-based chambers. European XFEL and DESY staff also continuously work to further improve the quality of the X-ray beam and performance of the instruments.

The latest milestone on this successful path is the commissioning of the Soft X-Ray Port or ‘SXP’ instrument. The commissioning of the SXP instrument was officially started at today’s celebration by State Secretary Judith Pirscher, and Senator Katharina Fegebank. SXP will allow users to bring and temporarily set-up their own experiments using the European XFEL beam.

“Planning, construction and commissioning of the SXP instrument are the result of many years of joint effort of European XFEL and several research groups of the photoemission user consortium headed by Kiel University,” says European XFEL Scientific Director Serguei Molodtsov, who initiated the SXP project.

“Starting user operation in 2023, SXP will further expand the scope of science conducted at European XFEL,” says Manuel Izquierdo, group leader of the SXP instrument group. “The new instrument will help us to address some of the grand challenges targeted by European XFEL, such as investigating new environmentally-friendly energy pathways, or helping us better understand the atmospheric processes that influence climate change.”

Five-years of user operation signify an important moment towards further improving the facility’s scientific capabilities. In the coming years, European XFEL is set to stay at the forefront of international scientific research, and together with its shareholders, partners and employees, will further increase the time and instrumentation available for its users.

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