On 6 October, commissioning began at the world’s largest X-ray laser: the European XFEL in Hamburg, Germany. The 3.4 km-long European XFEL will generate ultrashort X-ray flashes with a brilliance one billion times greater than the best conventional X-ray radiation sources based on synchrotrons. The beams will be directed towards samples at a rate of 27,000 flashes per second, allowing scientists from a broad range of disciplines to study the atomic structure of materials and to investigate ultrafast processes in situ. Commissioning will take place over the next few months, with external scientists able to perform first experiments in summer 2017.

The linear accelerator that drives the European XFEL is based on superconducting “TESLA” technology, which has been developed by DESY and its international partners. Since 2005, DESY has been operating a free-electron laser called FLASH, which is a 260 m-long prototype of the European XFEL that relies on the same technology.

The European XFEL is managed by 11 member countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. On 1 January 2017, surface-physicist Robert Feidenhans’l, currently head of the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, was appointed as the new chairman of the European XFEL management board taking over from Massimo Altarelli, who had been in the role since 2009.