The European XFEL, the world’s largest X-ray radiation laser, has successfully fired a laser for the first time.
The machine is housed in a 2.1-mile-long underground facility at the German research center DESY. This is an important moment because shooting a laser was “the last major milestone” the center needed before officially opening later this year.
“The European XFEL has generated its first X-ray laser light. The facility, to which many countries around the world contributed know-how and components, has passed its first big test with flying colors,” said Professor Robert Feidenhans, managing director of the European XFEL, in a statement.
Now that the device is up and running, international researchers will be able to harness its power for different scientific experiments around the world. Researchers at DESY believe that two different instruments will be available for use by this fall, and that number will eventually go up to six.
There are currently only five X-ray lasers in the world. The European XFEL is the largest and most powerful of the group.
The machine works by creating synchrotron radiation in X-ray range, emitting electrons that are accelerated to close to the speed of light. Then, a powerful linear accelerator helps create the laser light, which is a billion times brighter than conventional synchrotron light sources.
During the recent test, the European XFEL generated an X-ray beam of 0.8 nanometers in wavelength — about 500 times shorter than the wavelength of visible light. It also recorded a repetition rate of one pulse per second. Once it hits full capacity, the laser will create 27,000 pulses per second. Each of those will be so short and so strong that researchers will be able to take pictures of structures at an atomic level.
The machine achieves that power by sending the electron pulses through a photon tunnel that contains a 689-foot-long stretch of X-ray generating devices. Then, more than 17,000 magnets with alternating poles drive the beams through a lengthy series of mirrored tunnels. At each turn, the beams release extremely short-wavelength X-ray radiation that magnifies over the course of each trip.
Researchers state the XFEL will create the fastest and most powerful laser pulses on the planet. This will help many biological, chemical, and physical experiments. For example, it could aid the study of biomolecules, leading to better, more effective disease treatments. It also could create more research into chemical processes and their catalysts, shedding light on new ways to help protect the environment.
“The European XFEL’s particle accelerator is the first superconducting linear accelerator of this size in the world to go into operation,” added Helmut Dosch, Chairman of the DESY Directorate, according to Tech Times. “With the commissioning of this complex machine, DESY and European XFEL scientists have placed the crown on their 20-year engagement in developing and building this large international project. The first experiments are within reach, and I am quite excited about the discoveries ahead of us.”