Topic of the Day - European X-Ray Free Electron Laser

UPSC Exam Preparation: Topic of the Day – European X-Ray Free Electron Laser

European X-Ray Free Electron Laser also called European XFEL, the world’s most powerful laser was revealed in Hamburg in Germany. The facility has cost more than a billion Euros to build. It is considered as one of the most ambitious and largest European research projects ever and was built in 8 years and received funding from 11 countries. The XFEL will begin operations with these 11 nations as members of its consortium. Germany hosts the XFEL and has provided most of the funding and technology. The other members are Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Slovakia, Poland, Italy, Hungary, France, Denmark and Russia.

XFEL’s design and working:

The centerpiece of European XFEL boasts a superconducting linear accelerator of 1.7 kms which is the world’s largest, of its kind. It is designed in a way that it provides energy required to generate X-ray flashes a billion times brighter than best conventional radiation sources. The flashes are produced in underground tunnels and will allow scientists to map atomic details of viruses, film chemical reactions, and study the processes in the interior of planets. This will help scientists penetrate the inner workings of chemical reactions, viruses and atoms. Extremely intense laser flashes are generated by Self-Amplified Spontaneous Emission (SASE). The laser flashes are generated at rate of 27,000 per second. High-intensity electromagnetic radiations are generated by accelerating electrons to relativistic speeds and directing them through special magnetic structures.

  • It works by accelerating bunches of electrons to almost light-speed, before throwing them down a slalom course controlled by a system of magnets, known as undulators.
  • As the electrons bend and turn, they emit flashes of X-rays; and as the particles interact with this radiation, they also bunch even tighter.
  • Their compact configuration not only intensifies their light emission but gives it coherence as well. In essence, the X-rays are “in sync” and have the properties of laser light.
  • The beam will penetrate and detail at the atomic scale whatever is put in its path.
  • This could be the catalyst materials used to produce industrial chemicals or the protein molecules that drive our bodies. It allows for time-resolved investigations that are beyond what is possible in standard synchrotrons.

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