XFEL: Extreme conditions in the lab

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Extreme conditions in the lab

The Helmholtz International Beamline for Extreme Fields (HIBEF) inaugurated at the European XFEL

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Detail view inside the TWIN amplifier of the HIBEF HI Laser at the HED instrument showing Ti:Sapphire gain medium encased in a cryogenic cooling chamber. Copyright: European XFEL / Jan Hosan

Christian Luft, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Minister of Science of Schleswig-Holstein, Karin Prien, and the State Secretary for Science, Research, Equalities and District Authority of the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Dr. Eva Gümbel, inaugurated the Helmholtz International Beamline for Extreme Fields (HIBEF) at the European XFEL in Schenefeld, near Hamburg, today (31 August, 2021).
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Interaction chamber 2 was pushed into the beam. From left to right: Karin Prien (Minister for Education, Science and Culture, Schleswig-Holstein), Prof. Robert Feidenhans'l (Chairman of the European XFEL Management Board), Christian Luft (State Secretary BMBF), Dr Eva Gümbel (State Secretary, Hamburg Ministry of Science, Research, Equalities and District Authority), Prof. Sebastian M. Schmidt (Scientific Director of the HZDR). Copyright: European XFEL

Under the leadership of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) in cooperation with the Hamburg research Centre DESY, HIBEF pools equipment and expertise from various research institutions to make them available to the international scientific community. The beamline is part of the High Energy Density (HED) experimental station at the X-ray laser European XFEL, enabling deep insights into the structure of materials and hyper-fast natural plasma-physical processes. This will help researchers drive innovation in materials and accelerator research, for example, thanks to improved models of planet formation and simulations of processes in plasma.

The total investment including operating costs for ten years amounts nearly 120 million euros. State Secretary Christian Luft calls HIBEF a ground-breaking investment into the future: "Excellent research requires outstanding infrastructure. HIBEF at the European XFEL is an experimental facility that was set up in international cooperation and provides globally unique opportunities in areas ranging from basic research on new materials to new discoveries about our planets. With HIBEF, we are further expanding Europe's leading international position in the field of X-ray science."

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l-r, Prof. Robert Feidenhans‘l, Prof. Sebastian M. Schmidt, Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler, Prof. Helmut Dosch. Copyright: European XFEL
HIBEF combines the European XFEL’s X-ray radiation with two super lasers, a powerful magnetic coil, and provides a platform for research with diamond anvil cells. HIBEF, which was founded in 2013 by DESY and HZDR, involves a user consortium involving more than 350 scientists at 60 research institutions in 16 countries, such as the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Prof. Sebastian M. Schmidt, Scientific Director of HZDR: “With HIBEF, we are once again demonstrating that Helmholtz centers distinguish themselves by their ability to identify and envision the research issues of the future at an early stage and plan research infrastructures accordingly. The amount of interest and numerous requests from all over the world to use our new experimental facility also confirm HZDR’s excellent reputation as a competent and reliable partner.”

Prof. Robert Feidenhans’l, Chairman of the European XFEL Management Board, adds: “We are thrilled to now offer HIBEF researchers from all over the world additional exciting research opportunities with our experimental station HED. For 2021, we have scheduled a total of nine experiments with research groups from 59 institutions at the HED experimental station and are very excited to see the first results. I would like to thank the HIBEF consortium for its excellent and successful collaboration, which we hope to expand in the coming years.”

In Schenefeld, the world’s most intense X-ray pulses flash an incredible 27,000 times per second. They are generated in a 3.4 km underground X-ray laser by electrons that are accelerated to near light speed by a superconducting particle accelerator. While the European XFEL itself breaks a number of records, scientists from HZDR’s Institute of Radiation Physics are adding a few more superlatives. The two lasers, developed by STFC in the United Kingdom and HZDR, provide high-energy and high-intensity light to create extreme states, such as those found inside planets. Nowhere in the world is there anything comparable to this combination of extreme experimental conditions with the intense X-ray pulses of the European XFEL.

More quotes:

Sebastian Gemkow, Minister of Science of the Free State of Saxony: “As the largest non-university research institution in the Free State, HZDR - in strategic cooperation with partners in Germany and Europe - is dedicated to exploring the most gripping questions in physics today. HIBEF opens up much better opportunities for experimentation and simulation for scientists in the fields of materials, plasma, and accelerator research. I am convinced that this will lay the foundation for new developments and their transfer into innovative applications in industry and society.”

Karin Prien, Minister for Education, Science and Culture, Schleswig-Holstein: “The European XFEL - and now HIBEF - are excellent examples of how we in Europe can have successful international cooperation and jointly create conditions for world-class research. Thus, research with HIBEF will strengthen the already excellent research results of the European XFEL and considerably enhance the scientific attractiveness and international appeal of European XFEL in the future.”

Dr. Eva Gümbel, State Secretary, Hamburg Ministry of Science, Research, Equalities and District Authority: “With the addition of HIBEF, the European XFEL, Hamburg’s prime research facility, will become even more attractive for scientists all over the world. I am happy that we have taken yet another step towards making Hamburg an international well known metropolis of science and research. Cutting edge research requires excellent conditions. It is our aim to work constantly towards that goal; especially here in the future Science City in Bahrenfeld. In our pursuit of making our new science district a world renowned landmark of research with unseen possibilities, HIBEF is one of the crucial projects on the way towards that aim.”

Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association: “HIBEF will greatly enrich our knowledge of matter and the universe, which is why I am so excited about the inauguration of this facility that is unique in the world. Researchers from all over the world are already applying for lab time, proving that we are once again providing a hugely important infrastructure for the scientific community.”

Prof. Helmut Dosch, Chairman of the DESY Board of Directors: “The European X-ray laser XFEL is the most powerful large-scale research facility of its kind. Together with the HIBEF research station, a globally unique instrument is being created for researching completely new matter and material properties that have so far been experimentally inaccessible. DESY will contribute here with all its know-how in X-ray physics to make this ambitious HIBEF project an international beacon.”

Prof. Thomas Cowan, Director at the Institute of Radiation Physics of HZDR: “Both as a scientist and for me personally, I am enormously grateful to have helped launch and shape the challenging and future-oriented HIBEF project. In this laboratory of extremes, we will work together with the best minds from all over the world and thus help to find answers to pressing questions facing humanity. This is cutting-edge research.” 

Prof. Justin Wark from the University of Oxford, the representative of the UK partner states: “We are very happy to be part of the HIBEF consortium, and it has been a real pleasure collaborating with HZDR and the European XFEL to help enable this new experimental facility for High Energy Density Science. The unique opportunities this project provides will allow us to explore states of matter relevant to our own planet, as well as creating and probing matter under conditions that only exist elsewhere in the Universe. I greatly look forward to the exciting new science that this new capability will enable.”

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