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Giant X-ray camera takes photos of atoms

An X-ray camera so powerful it can capture images of individual atoms and make movies of chemical reactions has begun operating today.
The X-Ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL) can flash 27,000 laser beams per second - each one a billion times brighter than that of conventional X-Ray sources.
Scientists from eleven countries will use it to research the molecular composition of viruses and cells, and take three-dimensional images of the universe on a nano-molecular scale.It will drive forward international research by filming chemical reactions and by investigating the processes occurring deep inside of planets.Built in an underground facility stretching 3.4km from the German city of Hamburg to the town of Schenefeld, scientists say XFEL "marks the beginning a new era of research in Europe".XFEL shined its first laser light back in May - and as X-rays have a wavelength of 0.8 nanometres, almost 500 times shorter than visible light, it can be used to make pictures and videos of objects at an atomic level.
Giant X-ray camera takes photos of atoms

Image:
First Laser Light at the European XFEL, recorded by an X-ray detector at the end of the tunnel. Pic: DESY
Different areas of research will use the laser light to investigate aspects of the physical universe which mankind has not been able to probe before.Materials scientists will be able to test the properties of nano materials, while physicists could expose matter to extreme pressures and temperatures and find out how it reacts under high energy density.The powerful X-ray laser is generated from an electron beam directed through a special superconducting linear accelerator.
In a 2.1km-long section of tunnel, the electron pulses are accelerated to near-light speed before entering a tunnel containing a 210m stretch of X-ray generating devices.It is here that the 17,290 permanent magnets with alternating poles, known as undulators, interact with the electron pulses, as explained in detail on XFEL's website.These undulators are used to bring the electrons into a "slalom" course and with every change of direction the electrons release extremely short-wavelength X-ray radiation, which intensifies along the length of the undulator stretch.
Giant X-ray camera takes photos of atoms

Image:
The undulator at the European XFEL project. Pic: DESY
XFEL is a Europe-wide research project, which Germany covered 58% of the costs for and Russia 27%.Denmark, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Spain and Hungary contributed between one and three per cent each."The facility, to which many countries around the world contributed know-how and components, has passed its first big test with flying colours," said the project's managing director, Professor Robert Feidenhans'l, at the time of its first light."This is also a great success for scientific collaboration in Europe and across the world," Professor Feidenhans'l said.
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