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News, 30 January 2012

680 scientists discuss free-electron lasers and photon science

Joint European XFEL and DESY HASYLAB User Meeting in Hamburg

About 680 participants from 28 countries attended the 6th European XFEL/HASYLAB User Meeting on 25–27 January in Hamburg. In a 3-day programme that was jointly organized with DESY, future users as well as other interested scientists, students, staff and stakeholders met to hear about and discuss new developments in the world’s largest and most sophisticated X-ray laser European XFEL and the DESY light sources FLASH, DORIS and PETRA III.

In his update on the progress of the European XFEL facility Massimo Altarelli, Chairman of the European XFEL Management Board, said that civil construction and the development of the technical and scientific equipment went according to plan in 2011. “Everybody at European XFEL and DESY is committed to keeping the tight schedule, which foresees the first electron beam in the linear accelerator in the autumn of 2015 and the start of user operation in 2016”, Altarelli said. Major milestones have already been reached in the development of four scientific instruments and the X-ray beam transport systems. European XFEL scientists presented the central points of their respective conceptual design reports and discussed their ideas with the audience.

Participants at the 6th European XFEL and DESY HASYLAB User Meeting

Another focus on the first day was the application of free-electron lasers for structural biology. Topics discussed ranged from nanocrystallography to sample injection technologies and mathematical methods for data analysis (for details see our feature article).

The second day started with an update on the free-electron lasers FLASH in Hamburg, SACLA in Japan and FERMI in Trieste, Italy. SACLA sounds similar to “cherry blossom” in Japanese. According to Tetsuya Ishikawa, director of the SPring-8 research center operating SACLA, the facility will indeed soon be in full blossom: construction was completed in March 2011 and lasing at wavelengths of 0.06 to 0.23 nanometers (billionths of a meter) was achieved in June 2011. SACLA is looking forward to starting user operation in March 2012, Ishikawa said. The Italian free-electron laser Fermi@Elettra will also become available to the user community soon. It will then provide similar wavelengths as FLASH, Enrico Allaria from Fermi@Elettra reported.

The programme continued with a number of workshops, satellite meetings and group meetings on the second day and a poster session with almost 300 posters on the third. At the European XFEL satellite meetings, experts discussed topics such as “Photon Beam Diagnostics”, “SQS scientific instrument: Status report and user participation”, and “FXE instrument design: Status and user input” as well as the contributions of the hRIXS consortium, which plans to provide a part of the SCS scientific instrument for the European XFEL.

Participants welcomed the opportunity to exchange and update their knowledge about the European XFEL project and the related photon science. Sam Vinko, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Oxford working in the field of high energy density physics, said he was especially interested in the instrument development and the state of the project in general. Vinko, who already has experience with the free-electron lasers FLASH in Hamburg and LCLS in the USA, added: “It would be great to have another facility to do research at and I am very much looking forward to become a future user.” Robert Moshammer, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg who is interested in the behavior of atoms and molecules in strong fields, said he welcomed the opportunity to learn about the progress that has been made in the past year and the plans for the future. Thomas Barends from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg was very pleased to meet so many people with different backgrounds, saying that this “can generate interesting new impulses for research”. Barends also gave a talk in which he stressed the importance of X-ray methods for structural biology. “To be able to get structural information from a single molecule would be equal to reaching the Holy Grail of structural biology”, he said. From the European XFEL, he expects a quantum leap regarding the acquisition of useful new data.

Many young scientists—23 of which European XFEL was able to support with travel grants—were among the participants attending the meeting.

The presentations of the User Meeting concerning the European XFEL are available here.

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