The €1.22bn European X-ray Free Electron Laser (E-XFEL) in the Hamburg region of Germany has been inaugurated at a ceremony held today at the lab. The opening was attended by several officials including Germany's research minister Johanna Wanka and the mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz.

The 3.4 km-long E-XFEL uses a superconducting linear accelerator to accelerate electrons before passing them through an "undulator" where they produce coherent X-ray beams 27,000 times per second and with a luminance a billion times higher than that of the best conventional X-ray sources. Each pulse will last less than 100 fs (10–13 s), allowing researchers to create movies of chemical reactions and decipher the molecular composition of viruses and cells.

Two instruments

Experiments will begin in mid-September for two months and on two instruments: one called Femtosecond X-Ray Experiments and the other Single Particles, Clusters, and Biomolecules and Serial Femtosecond Crystallography.

The E-XFEL has 11 international partners: Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The UK is in the process of joining.