With the X-ray flashes of the European XFEL, scientists can film how molecules form and separate again or how they fulfil important functions in biological cells. This may contribute to improvements in the energy generation or the production of chemical substances and lead to progress in medicine.
Many chemical reactions proceed incredibly fast: Durations of the order of less than a trillionth of a second are quite common. This is the time scale on which changes occur at the atomic level when two molecules are reacting.
The X-ray flashes of the European XFEL will enable scientists to film such fast processes with unprecedented precision. Since the duration of the flashes is less than 0.1 trillionth of a second, snapshots can be taken without moving details becoming blurred. Thanks to the short wavelengths, even atomic details become visible. The X-ray flashes of the European XFEL will thus allow the researchers to follow and understand the precise mechanism of a chemical reaction on the atomic and molecular level.
The European XFEL will enable studies of reactions used in fuel cells or solar cells. Understanding these reactions better can result in economically relevant improvements of processes that are important for energy production. It will also allow scientists to better understand catalytic processes, which play an important role for more than half of all the chemical substances produced in industry. The researchers will also be able to watch biomolecules at work and thus help to find new possibilities for how future medicines could work.