The interdisciplinary research at the European XFEL will provide invaluable insights for many scientific disciplines. Experience shows that this kind of basic research leads to important applications.
The unique research opportunities at the European XFEL will attract top-level scientists from all over the world. This will bring very different scientific disciplines together, which will challenge and foster one another. Experience shows that such an interplay stimulates a multitude of ideas leading to concrete products and improvements of products.
The new facility will benefit many scientific fields—among them medicine, pharmacy, chemistry, physics, materials science, nanotechnology, energy technology, and electronics.
Biology, medicine and pharmacy
When Conrad Röntgen discovered X-ray radiation in 1895, X-ray images were soon in circulation all over the world. Decoding the structure of our genetic make-up in 1953 was only possible thanks to X-ray radiation. More than half a century later, scientists have gained much deeper insights into the world of life—but the solutions to many mysteries are still due.
The X-ray flashes of the European XFEL will enable scientists to analyse the structure of many more biomolecules and biological entities such as cells or membranes than is possible today. What’s more, they can also study their temporal behaviour. Research at the European XFEL will thus lead to a better understanding of viruses. This will provide an important basis for future medicines.
Catalysis is the process that makes chemical reactions proceed faster. It plays an important role in more than half of the chemical substances produced in industry. Nevertheless, little is known about how it comes about on the atomic level, much like many other chemical processes awaiting to be better understood on the level of atomic details. Finding optimizations here will result in more efficient production mechanisms and new products.
The X-ray flashes of the European XFEL will allow scientists to film chemical reactions with unprecedented precision. This will improve our knowledge of these processes significantly.
The 20th century produced completely new materials. Whether with respect to durability, conductivity or magnetization—the properties of materials can be better and better tailored to specific needs. This development has been decisively driven by research using intense radiation.
Research with the X-ray flashes of the European XFEL will help to improve the properties of known materials and find completely new materials with revolutionary characteristics.
The X-ray flashes of the European XFEL can be used to produce and analyse plasmas like those that normally occur only in the universe. This will provide important data that astrophysicists can use to verify their theories on the current state and the formation of our world.
Scientists can also use the European XFEL to study the conditions in the interior of heavier planets and shed new light on what holds the planets together.
Mankind requires ever more energy, but resources are limited. Known sources of energy are nearing their end, or their use entails inacceptable difficulties for the environment.
Using the X-ray flashes of the European XFEL, scientists can study the processes occurring in solar cells and improve our understanding of photosynthesis. The flashes can also be used to create and analyse plasmas that could be exploited in future fusion reactors.
Our everyday life would be unthinkable without the progresses made in electronics and computer technology. And progress inexorably goes on. Faster chips and hard discs providing more memory require an ever better understanding and optimization of the properties of materials.
Research at the European XFEL will provide new insights into the nanoworld, into magnetism and the properties of materials—with possible applications for faster computers and more data storage capacity.
The structures that we are able to produce artificially are becoming smaller and smaller. Today already, nanomaterials have reached our everyday life. Such materials have structures of the order of down to 100 nanometres, i.e. 100 billionths of a metre. At this level, materials such as copper, gold, or silicon exhibit surprising new properties, becoming for instance transparent, liquid or conductive.
The shortwave X-ray flashes of the European XFEL are ideally suited to study such nanostructures—to explore their spatial structure and investigate their temporal behaviour. They will thus lay the foundation for tomorrow’s technologies.
Laser technology has long since arrived in our everyday life. Today already, photonics, i.e. the use of visible light for instance in communications technology, plays a major role in our lives.
Research at the European XFEL can help to extend the range of photonics from visible light to the X-ray realm—with the possibility to develop applications that cannot even be imagined today.
Many processes in our environment are determined by substances in which molecules comprising light elements such as carbon, oxygen, or nitrogen play a major role. Understanding the function of these molecules better would enable deeper insights into these everyday processes. However, many properties of these molecules cannot be studied yet under normal environmental conditions.
The intense X-ray flashes of the European XFEL offer a new access that will for the first time enable analyses of a large class of substances that are important for environmental research.