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The largest source of X-ray lasers is now operational

The largest and most powerful source of X-ray lasers was officially opened on September 1, 2017, in Germany. The European X-ray Free Electron Laser (E-XFEL) is a project involving 11 Old World countries and cost 1.22 billion euros. Construction began in 2009 and the facility consists of underground tunnels up to 38 meters deep that form a linear electron accelerator 3.4 km long between the cities of Hamburg and Schenefeld. The equipment will generate 27,000 laser flashes per second, 200 times more than any other source of X-ray lasers. With E-XFEL, researchers from the European consortium hope to obtain 3-D images at an atomic level of a series of processes, such as chemical reactions that involve cells and viruses, extremely fast interactions of nanostructures and simulations of what takes place inside the Sun. Spokesperson Robert Feidenhans, managing director of E-XFEL, tells Agence France Presse that the equipment is “like a camera and a microscope that will make it possible to see more tiny details and processes in the nano-world than ever before.” To generate the X-ray pulses, beams of electrons are accelerated to almost the speed of light until they produce high energies. Next, they are directed by an array of magnetic devices called undulators. During the process, the particles emit radiation that is amplified until it becomes an extremely short and intense flash of X-rays with characteristics similar to those of laser light. Germany paid 58% of the cost of the E-XFEL, and Russia, the next largest partner in the project, paid 27%.