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Entrusted with the key to the free electron laser

By Hamish Johnston

On Friday the Physics World video crew was at DESY in Hamburg, Germany to film two interviews, which will be broadcast in September on

Our host was DESY’s Christian Mrotzek, who did a fantastic job of setting up the interviews and scouting locations to film.

One such location was the experimental hall of the FLASH free electron laser. Christian is such a trusting soul that he left Joe McEntee and me with a key to the facility while he drove our film crew around the DESY campus.

That’s me with the key on the right.

We were tempted to start up the laser and fire off a few femtosecond pulses, but we couldn’t find the on switch. That’s another reason why Joe and I should have paid more attention to modern languages at school.

In the FLASH hall I spoke to Edgar Weckert, who is director of photon science at DESY. We chatted about plans for the new-and-improved FLASH II and he explained how FLASH is informing the development of the European X-ray Free Electron Laser, which is being built in Hamburg.

My other interview was with DESY’s director Helmut Dosch, who explained how the lab was making the transition from being a particle physics facility to becoming a centre of excellence for “photon science”.

The last particles collided at DESY in 2007, when the HERA ring shut down. By then the lab was already home to FLASH and work had just begun to convert the PETRA injector ring to the PETRA III synchroton light source.

Dosch took over as director in March 2009 and is the first condensed-matter physicist to run DESY.

Now, there seems to be no looking back as the lab plans its future as a leading experimental facility for chemistry, materials and biological science – and of course, condensed-matter physics.

Perhaps that’s not good news for particle physicists in Germany, but it means that a much broader spectrum of science will be done at DESY.

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