Skip Navigation
Deutsche Version
How to reach us
Home - Overview - In brief

In brief

The Hamburg area will soon boast a research facility of superlatives: The European XFEL will generate ultrashort X-ray flashes—27 000 times per second and with a brilliance that is a billion times higher than that of the best conventional X-ray radiation sources.

The outstanding characteristics of the facility are unique worldwide. Starting in 2017, it will open up completely new research opportunities for scientists and industrial users.

Acceleration in a resonator
Electromagnetic fields accelerate the electrons in superconducting resonators.
© DESY 2000
Click on the image to see it full size.
Generation of X-ray flashes
To generate the extremely short and intense X-ray laser flashes bunches of high-energy electrons are directed through special arrangements of magnets (the green-blue structure).
European XFEL / Marc Hermann, tricklabor
Click on the image to see it full size.


Smaller, faster, more intense: The European XFEL will open up areas of research that were previously inaccessible. Using the X-ray flashes of the European XFEL, scientists will be able to map the atomic details of viruses, decipher the molecular composition of cells, take three-dimensional images of the nanoworld, film chemical reactions, and study processes such as those occurring deep inside planets.

How it works

To generate the X-ray flashes, bunches of electrons will first be accelerated to high energies and then directed through special arrangements of magnets (undulators). In the process, the particles will emit radiation that is increasingly amplified until an extremely short and intense X-ray flash is finally created. (More about how it works)

The European XFEL will generate X-ray radiation with properties similar to those of laser light. There will be several light sources with different characteristics. (More about the light sources)

The principle of a free-electron laser
Electrons are first brought to high energies in a superconducting accelerator. They then fly on a slalom course through a special arrangement of magnets (the "undulator"), in which they emit laserlike flashes of radiation.
© European XFEL 2014
Click on the image to see it full size.


The European XFEL will be located mainly in underground tunnels which can be accessed on three different sites. The 3.4-kilometre-long facility will run from DESY in Hamburg to the town of Schenefeld (Schleswig-Holstein). The Schenefeld site hosts the research campus, where international teams of scientists will carry out experiments using the X-ray flashes. (More on the location and the sites of the European XFEL)

The European XFEL will run from the DESY site in Hamburg to the research site in Schenefeld (Schleswig-Holstein).
European XFEL [Aerial views: FHH, Landesbetrieb Geoinf. und Vermessung]
Click on the image to see it full size.

European XFEL GmbH

To construct and operate the European XFEL, international partners agreed on the foundation of an independent research organization – a non-profit limited liability company under German law named the European XFEL GmbH. The company will have a workforce of about 280 people. At present, 11 countries are participating in the project (Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland).

Construction project

The European XFEL is being realized as a joint effort of many partners. To this end, the European XFEL GmbH cooperates closely with the research centre DESY and other organizations worldwide. Construction started in early 2009; commissioning is planned for 2016.

The construction costs of the facility, which include the commissioning, amount to 1.22 billion euro (price levels of 2005). As the host country, Germany (the federal government, the city-state of Hamburg, and the state of Schleswig-Holstein) covers 58% of these costs. Russia bears 27% and the other international partners between 1% and 3%.

To a great extent, the European XFEL facility will be realized by means of in-kind contributions by shareholders and partners.