Frontier research Three extreme light facilities are being built in Europe, which will pave the way for further cutting-edge research. The ELI Attosecond facility in Hungary will be designed to allow scientists to take snapshots of electron activity in atoms in the attosecond scale (a billionth of a billionth of a second), and further our understanding and control of attoscience. One of Europe’s main attosecond research facilities is the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP), where researchers are making discoveries at the atomic level, such as in this experiment using rare gas atoms and pulses of infrared light. Image: Thorsten Naeser At the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), a doughnut-shaped structure produces many beams of bright X-ray light in order to view the microscopic and atomic structure of matter. It’s one of only four facilities in the world that can produce beams of such power. Researchers are able to image the surfaces of silicon solar cells to analyse how surface formation affects photovoltaic performance. Image: T. Lafford/ESRF At the ESRF, there are 42 experimental research labs, with applications ranging from materials, pharmaceuticals and electronics. The facility is being upgraded with the help of EU funding. High-sensitivity microtomography imaging techniques at the synchrotron, which use X-rays to create cross sections of objects, like this slice of a bamboo toothpick, are useful in the study of how water travels in plants and in plant behaviour. Image: A. Rack and A. Bonnin/ESRF The European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) facility is currently being built in Hamburg, Germany, and will be operational by 2017. This laser will produce ultrashort, intense X-rays that are a billion times brighter than current conventional X-ray sources. Although it destroys the sample, a picture can be taken just before the sample decays. It enables scientists to see smaller structures than with current X-ray crystallography methods and has applications including mapping the atomic details of viruses, deciphering the molecular composition of cells and taking three-dimensional images of the nanoworld. Image: © DESY 2014 In order for XFEL to produce the powerful ultrashort X-ray laser beams, groups of high-energy electrons are directed through a magnet structure known as an undulator. © European XFEL (Design: Marc Hermann, tricklabor) 0 media itemsOpen galleryClosePreviousNext From ultrashort X-rays to extremely powerful lasers, Horizon looks at images from Europe’s cutting-edge light infrastructure.