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New videos shine a light on DESY

By Hamish Johnston

How do you convert a major particle physics lab into a leading centre for materials science, chemistry and biology? That was the leading question confronting Helmut Dosch when he was appointed director of DESY in 2009 – the first condensed-matter physicist ever to hold that post.

In this exclusive video interview, Dosch explains why DESY, which is located in Hamburg, Germany, is making the transition from colliding particles to developing world-class “photon science” facilities that are used by scientists across a wide range of disciplines.

Dosch talks about the key role that the lab is playing in building the €1.2 billion European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL), which Dosch describes as “a high-speed camera for the nanoworld”. At the heart of the laser is an electron accelerator that will run 3.4 km from DESY to an experimental hall on the outskirts of Hamburg.

The European XFEL uses superconducting cavity technology that was developed at DESY – and the same technology is now being used in preliminary designs for the International Linear Collider (ILC). The ILC will be the next big thing in particle physics after CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and Dosch explains how DESY’s involvement in the project will keep the lab at the cutting edge of accelerator technology.

While he admits that it’s unlikely that the ILC will be built in Hamburg, there are plenty of options for boosting DESY’s photon-science capability. One discussed by Dosch is the possible conversion of the dormant HERA accelerator ring into a light source.

In a separate interview filmed in the experimental hall of the FLASH free electron laser, DESY’s director of photon science, Edgar Weckert, explains how that facility is informing the development of the European XFEL.

Weckert explains how FLASH was used to make aluminium momentarily transparent to light and other photon-science highlights at the facility. Indeed, FLASH is so popular that DESY has to turn down most of the requests it gets from scientists for time on the instrument. An enviable problem that soon could be relieved with the building of FLASH II, according to Weckert.

If you want to know more about the research at DESY, Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics has just published a special issue entitled Intense X-ray Science: the First Five Years of FLASH. All papers in the issue are free to download until March 2011.

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