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Poles Help Build Unique Laser
April 25, 2013   
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A Polish-built system for accelerating electron beams was launched at the DESY research center in Hamburg, Germany, in mid-February, as part of the European X-ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL) research project that involves scientists from a number of countries in Europe.

Worth more than a billion euros, the European XFEL research facility is being built in a joint project that involves scientists from 12 countries, including Poland. From 2015 on, the research facility will generate extremely intense X-ray flashes that will be used in research by scientists from all over the world. Polish researchers have been contributing to the project since 2005.

“Alongside the research project under way at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, the construction of the XFEL laser is the most important international project involving Polish scientists at the moment,” said Prof. Barbara Kudrycka, the Polish minister of science and higher education, who visited the DESY research center in Hamburg to take part in the launch of the system built by the Polish researchers. The system, called a cryogenic transfer line, will be used to accelerate electron beams in the German research facility.

“I am proud that our researchers, but also engineers and technicians, are a significant part of this endeavor. Poland is investing nearly 29 million euros in this groundbreaking and innovative research project, mostly by contributing the necessary test equipment and key concepts developed by scientists and engineers from 18 Polish research institutions. What is more important, in the near future, taking part in this project is going to result in attractive contracts and orders for industry and research centers,” Kudrycka added.

After commissioning, which is planned for the end of 2015, the European XFEL will be the world’s best X-ray laser light source of a new generation of so-called free-electron lasers (FELs). It employs a high-performance particle accelerator generating ultrashort and extremely intense X-ray flashes. For this purpose, electrons are brought to almost the speed of light in a 1.7 km long particle accelerator. Then, strong magnets force the fast particles onto a tight slalom course. In each curve, the electrons emit X-ray radiation, which produces intense laser flashes.

The European XFEL will generate ultrashort X-ray flashes—27,000 times per second and with a brilliance a billion times higher than that of the best conventional X-ray radiation sources. Beginning 2015, the facility will open up new areas of research that were previously inaccessible to scientists. 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.

To construct and operate the European XFEL, international partners established a nonprofit limited-liability company under German law called the European XFEL GmbH. At present, 12 countries are taking part in the project, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The European XFEL GmbH company works closely with the DESY research center and other organizations worldwide. Construction started in early 2009; commissioning is planned for 2015.

The facility will cost around 1.15 billion euros to build and launch. As the host country, Germany is picking up 54 percent of the tab. Russia is contributing 23 percent and the other international partners between 1 and 3.5 percent. Poland is contributing a test facility for more than 800 superconducting cavities to the construction of the X-ray laser.

Prof. Massimo Altarelli, managing director of the European XFEL company, said, “When in operation, due to its special features, the European XFEL will be the only machine of its kind in the world. The shareholders designated by the member states involved in the project are not only the co-owners of the laser facility, but can also access all the discoveries and patents. This means access to innovation and unique knowledge contributing to the development of science and the economy.”

Poland, as a country taking part in the European XFEL project, has provided advanced cryogenic equipment necessary to test important components of the future facility, Altarelli added.

Prof. Helmut Dosch, chairman of the DESY board of directors, said, “Polish expertise in cryogenic and vacuum technology is outstanding.” He emphasized the role of Poland as an important partner in the project.

Poland’s National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ), the coordinator of the Polish institutions involved in the XFEL project, says it intends to build a similar but smaller laser in ¦wierk near Warsaw. “We will make the most of our long-term cooperation with the DESY center and take advantage of our experience gained during the construction of the XFEL,” said Prof. Grzegorz Wrochna, director of the NCBJ. “At the moment, there is only one large nuclear research facility in Poland that is important enough to be of interest to scientists across Europe—a nuclear reactor called Maria. Another one, the Synchrotron, is under construction in the southern city of Cracow. The Polish PolFEL free-electron laser is set to be yet another project that will significantly strengthen the role of Poland in the European Research Area.”
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