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Bright light gets green light: major European laser project gets underway

The future of science in Europe is set to get a whole lot brighter with the launch in Hamburg of the European X-ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL) project. When it becomes operational in 2013, this unique facility will be the brightest x-ray light source in the world. The extreme...

The future of science in Europe is set to get a whole lot brighter with the launch in Hamburg of the European X-ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL) project. When it becomes operational in 2013, this unique facility will be the brightest x-ray light source in the world. The extremely intense x-ray laser flashes generated by XFEL will enable scientists to film chemical reactions, see how biomolecules move, work out the atomic structure of molecules and take three-dimensional snapshots of the nanoworld. 'This is a milestone for scientists in Europe,' said German Research and Education Minister Annette Schavan at the launch ceremony on 5 June. 'By launching the European XFEL we are kicking off a development whose full scientific potential is not yet even foreseeable. We are paving the way for future generations of scientists and researchers.' The XFEL will consist of a 3.4 km long tunnel system, which will run underground between the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg and the city of Schenefeld in the neighbouring state of Schleswig Holstein. The site in Schenefeld will include an underground experimental hall containing ten experimental stations which will operate in parallel. 'With this very complex instrument, we open a view into the innermost functioning of molecules, of atoms, of chemical processes, which otherwise would not be possible, and therefore we need that instrument,' commented Professor Albrecht Wagner, Chairman of the DESY Directorate. 'The new XFEL X-ray laser facility will be unique in Europe and offer fascinating perspectives for science,' added European XFEL Project Team Leader Professor Massimo Altarelli. 'The future users of the XFEL expect results of fundamental importance in fields such as materials science, plasma physics, structural biology, geological research or chemistry.' Three quarters of the €850 million funding required for the first phase of construction comes from the German Government and the German states of Hamburg and Schleswig Holstein. This will be topped up by contributions from the other countries involved in the project, namely Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK, China, Russia and Switzerland. 'We consider that the XFEL is an important element for further shaping the European Research Area which will offer scientists from Europe and the whole world outstanding opportunities for conducting research on matter,' the partner countries state in a communiqu? signed at the launch ceremony. 'We are convinced that it is appropriate to begin the construction of the XFEL as quickly as possible in view of the international competition situation.' Speaking at the ceremony, the new French Higher Education and Research Minister, Val?rie P?cresse echoed this last point. 'Research and knowledge are the two pillars of our economy and our future,' she said. European Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik was also enthusiastic about the XFEL. 'It's an important project,' he told CORDIS News. 'I'm really glad that Germany took the leadership and 13 countries are inside that project, and of course the European Commission is more than willing to help in these endeavours to get the new infrastructure on board in Europe.' The XFEL is the first project identified by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) to get underway, and its launch was timed to coincide with the European Conference on Research Infrastructures, which is also taking place in Hamburg. Work on the new facility is expected to get underway in 2008, and it should become operational in 2013. When complete, it is expected to attract scientists and students from a range of disciplines to the north German region, which is already home to an impressive range of research infrastructures, including the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's Hamburg station, the German Climate Computing Centre and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine.

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China, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Sweden

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