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First Two Scientific Instruments Prepare for Their Big Debut

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Scientists for instruments SPB/SFX and FXE present latest status as users begin first plans

In the movie industry, summertime is the time for blockbusters, and summer at the European XFEL will be similarly exciting when the first scientific users come to do experiments at its state-of-the-art scientific instruments. Currently, the groups responsible for building the first two scientific instruments, SPB/SFX and FXE, are installing components in the underground experiment hall. To prepare for their first experiments, a total of 100 scientists from around the world each attended the SPB/SFX and FXE early user workshops, held on 28–29 November and 1–2 December, respectively. The SPB/SFX and FXE groups presented the parameters expected for the first experiments in summer 2017. The workshops also helped users begin to plan their first proposals at these instruments, the first calls for which will go out in early 2017.

The workshops provided a first opportunity for scientists to understand what would be possible for the initial experiments next year. As a user facility, European XFEL will be taking applications for access from research groups that are interested in using the X-ray laser’s unique light flashes. Each instrument provides a suite of tools that researchers can use to perform experiments in a variety of scientific disciplines. The SPB/SFX instrument is tailored for studies of single particles such as biomolecules, viruses, whole cells, and tiny crystals, and is expected to be particularly useful in fields such as pharmacology, cell biology, and biochemistry. The neighbouring FXE instrument will be able to decipher intermediate states in chemical reactions, with expected impacts on biochemistry, materials science, and studies of energy transfer and storage.

At the workshops, European XFEL scientists presented the status of installations, showing what state-of-the-art components would be available on the first day of experiments, and scientists worked in breakout sessions on the foundations for first experiment proposals.

“It all looks very promising”, said Elena Tereschenko, a scientist at the Kurchatov Institute in Russia who attended the FXE workshop. “For my colleagues, the instrument is most interesting for investigating phase transitions and material dynamics. There are very interesting experimental setups here. The scattering components of the instrument will be very useful for us.”

“Coming from the biochemistry side, I’m quite interested what you can do with nanocrystals here”, said Martin Äpfelbacher, a scientist at the University Hospital Eppendorf in Hamburg, about the SPB/SFX instrument. His colleague Markus Perbandt, a scientist at the University of Hamburg’s Center for Ultrafast Imaging, said: “I’m interested in the proposal-making process and how we can start making collaborations. It’s good to know as well what’s possible on the first day.”

“Users seem to be very happy with what we are installing”, said FXE group leader Christian Bressler. SPB/SFX group leader Adrian Mancuso said: “The engagement, enthusiasm, and clever ideas of the workshop participants were great to see. There’s a palpable excitement about the new scientific possibilities made available by the European XFEL.”

“This is a different type of machine from the existing two hard X-ray free-electron lasers”, said Changyong Song of Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea. “People want to get real parameters for their experiments, and this has been a good opportunity to get a good connection to other users of these instruments.”