- A view of the undulator at the Linac Coherent Light Source at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, California. The undulator is 132 m long. Bunches of electrons from an even longer (1 km) linear accelerator are shot through this device at near the speed of light and converted into X-ray flashes that are a billion times brighter than previously attainable. The linear accelerator currently under construction at the European XFEL will be 1.7 km long, and the electron beam will pass through undulators that are up to 212 m long.
- Brad Plummer, SLAC
The UK is a world leader in protein crystallography, a technique that has revolutionised biology. It has led to effective treatments for HIV, new antibiotics, new vaccines (including progress on foot-and-mouth disease), several Nobel prizes, and with the breakthrough in the structure of G protein-coupled receptors, whole new families of medicines. However there are still many problems yet to be solved.
Professor Dave Stuart, Director of Life Sciences at Diamond Light Source and MRC Professor of Structural Biology at the Department of Medicine University of Oxford
, says: “Some of the most challenging problems in biomedicine involve proteins or viruses which do not give crystals suitable for examination with current technology. XFELs will radically change this. The light they produce is so intense it can resolve even the most weakly diffracting samples. The pulses of light are so fast that the atoms appear stationary to the pulse and we capture the information we need before the sample is destroyed. The same principle underpins stroboscopic lighting which appears to produce freeze frame images of a moving object.”
Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), along with a number of European partners, the UK efforts of the SFX consortium are led by the University of St Andrews and Diamond Light Source, where Professor Stuart and Dr Martin Walsh, Diamond’s Life Sciences Coordinator, will lead the development of a UK hub
for scientists using SFX at the European XFEL.
The UK hub, which will be based at Diamond, will enable users of the SFX facility to fully prepare for their experiments in Hamburg. In-house experts will work with the researchers to ensure that their experimental samples are suitable and flight-ready before sending them off for transit. There will also be a dedicated fibre link from Hamburg to Harwell enabling researchers to carry out data analysis back in the UK.