Laying of the corner stone for the new large research facility SwissFEL

At the ceremony on 3 July 2013, not only did the PSI lay the corner stone for the new large research facility SwissFEL, but it also paved the way for the continuation of twenty-five years of successful research at the institute.

As part of the ceremony to mark the laying of the foundation stone, a symbolic oak time capsule was placed in the wall: from left to right: Mayor André Zoppi, President of the ETH Board Fritz Schiesser, President of the Cantonal Council Alex Hürzeler, PSI Director Joël Mesot, State Secretary Mauro Dell’Ambrogio, SwissFEL project leader Hans Braun and Marco Hirzel from the EquiFEL Suisse consortium, which is realising the SwissFEL building. Photo: Frank Reiser/PSI.

On 3 July 2013 the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI laid the corner stone for SwissFEL, its new large research facility, in the presence of around 130 guests from politics, science and industry.

Beginning in 2016, SwissFEL will generate very short pulses of x-rays with the properties of laser light. “An extremely ambitious project,” says PSI Director Joël Mesot, who opened the ceremony – one that places extremely high demands on the PSI and its partners and, which, thanks to the tireless efforts of the staff and the extensive support from politics, can build on a solid foundation.

“The Communal Parliament took the position that this internationally significant project should be backed from the word go,” explains André Zoppi, the Mayor of Würenlingen. “All the permit procedures could be dealt with swiftly and always very constructively.” Zoppi particularly stresses the importance of the forest workgroup, whose work made a sizeable contribution towards the acceptance of the project among the population.

Hans Braun, the SwissFEL project leader for the accelerator, also highlighted the fruitfulness of the workgroup’s work and is delighted that the facility can be realised at the present location in Würenlingen forest (Canton of Aargau): “The Würenlingen facility will enable us to venture into unchartered scientific territory that can only be researched in Stanford (USA), Harima (Japan) and Hamburg (Germany) at present.”

“Interplay between industry, science and politics”

Fritz Schiesser, President of the ETH Board, sees in SwissFEL a further example of the PSI’s innovative strength, which does not only enable electrons to be accelerated. “It also lifts the Swiss economy to a higher energy level.”

Alex Hürzeler, the President of the Cantonal Council of Aargau, referred to the laying of the corner stone as a “great moment for Aargau as a research hub”. The SwissFEL enables the PSI to bolster its position as the largest scientific and engineering research institution in Switzerland. “The interplay between industry, science and politics is crucial for our country’s competitiveness,” states Hürzeler. The member of the Cantonal Council expects a substantial boost to the region from the construction and operation of SwissFEL in the Canton of Aargau, in the form of contracts for Aargau-based companies. Moreover, he is also banking on an increase in the local attractiveness for high-tech firms.

State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation Mauro Dell’Ambrogio highlighted four aspects that secure Switzerland’s top position in education, research and innovation: a “science and research-friendly environment”, which the Canton of Aargau can be particularly proud of; “heads” who know to involve the PSI frequently; “state-of-the-art research infrastructures”, especially national ones, which give Switzerland a competitive edge and for which the PSI frequently assumes a pioneering role; and finally “cooperation”: “In fulfilling its core role, the PSI is seeking a close collaboration with industry and, wherever possible, the transfer of knowledge to knowhow and the market,” says Dell’Ambrogio.

Legacy to posterity

Within the scope of the official ceremony, an oak time capsule was filled and placed in the wall. “Oak forests have always played a major role in the region,” explains Marco Hirzel, who led the ceremony as a representative of the EquiFEL Suisse consortium.

The items preserved in the time capsule for posterity reflect the development of SwissFEL thus far and range from blueprints, to the minutes of the communal parliament and assembly meetings of the municipality of Würenlingen. A piece of slate engraved with the date 27/28 March 2007 also found its way into the capsule: that was when SwissFEL, which was still called PSI X-FEL at that stage, was incorporated into the ETH Board’s strategic planning for the ETH Domain.

About SwissFEL

With SwissFEL, researchers will track ultra-rapid processes, such as the formation of new molecules during chemical reactions, determine the detailed structure of essential proteins and clarify the precise behaviour of materials.

The PSI’s new large research facility will be around 740 metres long right next door to the institute in the Würenlingen forest. The forest workgroup – an interdisciplinary team of experts – drafted a concept to embed SwissFEL in its surroundings as effectively as possible, during a two-year project.

The construction work for SwissFEL got underway in early 2013 and is being carried out by EquiFEL Suisse, a consortium composed of the companies Alpiq Infra AG, Specogna Bau AG and Eberhard Bau AG. The building is due for completion by the end of 2014 and will be equipped with the necessary technical infrastructure to run the facility. Once the building is finished, the installation of the technical components can begin. The start-up is planned for the end of 2016.

Text: Martina Gröschl

About PSI

The Paul Scherrer Institute develops, builds and operates large, complex research facilities, and makes them available to the national and international research community. The Institute's own key research priorities are in the investigation of matter and material, energy and the environment; and human health. PSI is Switzerland's largest research institution, with 1500 members of staff and an annual budget of approximately 300 million CHF.

Dr. Hans-Heinrich Braun
Project Leader SwissFEL, Accelerator
Paul Scherrer Institute, 5232 Villigen, Switzerland, PSI
Telephone: +41 56 310 3241, email:

Dr. Rafael Abela
Project Leader SwissFEL, Photonics and Research
Paul Scherrer Institute, 5232 Villigen, Switzerland, PSI
Telephone: +41 56 310 3271, email: