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European XFEL to shine as brightest, fastest x-ray source

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Science  07 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6308, pp. 22-23
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6308.22

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Summary

A 3.4-kilometer-long, fearsomely bright x-ray strobe is about to light up on the outskirts of Hamburg, Germany. On 6 October, scientists at the €1.4 billion European x-ray free electron laser (XFEL) will officially kick off a roughly 4-month-long process of cooling down and firing up the facility's superconducting electron accelerator, which powers the x-rays. By next June the machine should be delivering the world's brightest and fastest pulses of x-ray light to materials scientists and structural biologists probing the atomic structure of molecules in natural settings. The new laser will help relieve the overwhelming demand for time on the world's handful of FELs, which includes the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, as well as a FEL in Japan and facilities due to open over the coming year in South Korea and Switzerland. But the European XFEL will also stand out for its unique rapid-fire capability. With 27,000 flashes of light per second—more than 200 times the pulse rate of the LCLS—the European XFEL will allow scientists to get lucky, capturing free-floating molecules in dilute solutions where other FELs would fire and miss.