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Home - News - 2015 - New EU project: Guiding light for the world’s brightest light sources

News, 05 October 2015

New EU project: Guiding light for the world’s brightest light sources

EUCALL will build bridges between major laser and X-ray research centres

For the past half-century, two special kinds of light have changed the landscape of research. Advanced visible-spectrum optical lasers have propelled studies into ultrafast processes, new materials, telecommunications, and many other fields, while intense X-rays produced at synchrotrons have helped image tiny structures and otherwise invisible parts of matter, enabling huge leaps in biochemistry, pharmacology, and materials science. New developments have enhanced the generation of X-rays at optical-laser and accelerator facilities, resulting in the creation of large international research centres. The European Union is now funding a 7 million-euro effort to bring these research centres together through the European Cluster of Advanced Laser Light Sources (EUCALL) project. The project will be managed by European XFEL, an X-ray free-electron laser facility currently under construction in the Hamburg area of Germany.

Thousands of scientists in biomedicine, physics, materials science and many other fields from around the world come to these centres to use the unique radiation available there. These large-scale facilities, which are also known as research infrastructures (RI), provide scientists access to light that is otherwise unavailable at a science laboratory. Particle accelerator-driven facilities called synchrotrons have been providing ultrabright X-rays, and more recent X-ray free-electron lasers have been pushing the limits of accelerator-based technologies to generate ultrashort pulses of laser-like X-ray light at unprecedented brightness. In recent years, specialized optical lasers have been used to generate intense X-rays as well; the new availability of such sources to the scientific community has led to the construction of RIs. EUCALL aims to help both accelerator- and laser-driven X-ray facilities even better serve the scientific community.

Within the EUCALL project, the two types of large-scale X-ray RIs in Europe collaborate for the first time in a comprehensive way on technical, scientific, and strategic issues. One of the project’s main goals is to make substantial scientific and technological contributions through new synergies between laser-driven and accelerator-driven X-ray RIs. Under EUCALL, the RIs can work together on common methodologies and research opportunities, potentially sparking new scientific investigations, as well as new applications and private-sector innovation, and develop tools to sustain this interaction in the future. The project will allow the involved RIs to provide scientists from around the world better access to highly sought-out X-ray facilities.

To accomplish these goals, the EUCALL partners will work together on strategic and technological developments that can be used at all facilities, along with better protocols to enable scientists to make the best possible use of limited experiment time.

Three major international RIs have a key role in EUCALL: European XFEL, a 3.4 km-long X-ray free-electron laser that will open in 2017 and use ultrabright X-ray laser flashes to investigate nanoscale particles, ultrafast processes, and extreme states of matter; the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI), a trio of cutting-edge high-power optical-laser laboratories in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania that will become operational in 2018; and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, which is one of the most prominent X-ray research centres in the world.

Also involved are five other institutes: DESY, which operates the FLASH and PETRA III X-ray user facilities, in Hamburg, Germany; Elettra, which operates the 2-stage seeded FERMI free-electron laser user facility, in Trieste, Italy; Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, which operates high-power optical-laser facilities and a free-electron laser, in Germany; Lund University, which is building the MAX-IV synchrotron, in Sweden; and Paul Scherrer Institut, which is building the SwissFEL X-ray free-electron laser, in Villigen, Switzerland.

All of these RIs have their foundations in broad experience developed at a large number of optical-laser- and accelerator-based X-ray laboratories. Therefore, EUCALL also includes the existing EU collaborations of these facilities, LASERLAB-Europe and FELs of Europe, as well as three partners that work closely with ELI. “EUCALL enables optical-laser- and accelerator-based X-ray facilities in Europe to develop common strategies and new technologies to help our scientific users engage in even more research possibilities”, says European XFEL Scientific Director Thomas Tschentscher, who will act as EUCALL project coordinator. “Implementation of these strategies and efforts will help European research maintain a leading role in many critical areas.”

“Coinciding with the International Year of Light, EUCALL is the first serious effort to bring together scientific communities who have been using X-ray light in parallel to each other, and from different scientific and technological backgrounds”, says ELI Director-General Wolfgang Sandner. “ELI highly welcomes the increased research opportunities and innovation potential that will arise from this synergy, to the benefit of its European and international users.”

The funding from the EU will be used by each RI to support some of the development costs on new technologies, conduct efficiency studies, and hire new staff assigned specifically to EUCALL tasks. Among these tasks will be four research initiatives focusing on new hardware and software for the two laser light source communities. A first research goal is to develop a simulation platform that will allow users to more accurately model their experiments before coming to a facility for beamtime. The aim is to make user proposals and experiments more focused so that scientists can make the best possible use of limited experiment time. Another research goal is to develop an adaptable software and firmware package that can handle the massive data throughput generated by imaging detectors operated at the high or ultrahigh repetition rates of the X-ray and laser flashes at these facilities.

The other two research areas look to develop common scientific hardware. One aim is to develop an efficient method for users to identify positions of samples to be targeted with laser light through use of electron and light microscopy. A final goal involves developing a suite of advanced X-ray beam diagnostics to accurately measure the incident photon intensity and the wave front of coherent X-ray beams, as well as to precisely determine the X-ray pulse arrival time on the sample for ultrafast experiments.

European XFEL will host a EUCALL kick-off meeting on 29–30 October 2015 in Hamburg. Beyond the three-year scope of EUCALL, the project looks to establish a long-term collaboration between the involved RIs, with the aim of further developing common capabilities and fostering closer cooperation.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 654220.