28. February 2013

A green light for SwissFEL

SwissFEL Large Research Facilities

The completion of all required approvals gives a green light for the construction of SwissFEL, the new large research facility at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI.

At the end of the last year, the Swiss Parliament provided the necessary funding for constructing SwissFEL, by approving a federal commitment of 80 million Swiss Francs. Now, the building permit from the community of Würenlingen and the building rights agreement have been signed. Preparations are therefore in full swing, and the start of construction work is planned for April, 2013.

The X-ray free-electron laser SwissFEL will extend over almost 740 metres and will be situated in the Würenlingen forest, in the immediate vicinity of the PSI site. All of the buildings and the technical infrastructure will be completed by the end of 2014. During 2015 and 2016, the technical equipment will be installed, and SwissFEL will start operation in late 2016

SwissFEL will generate extremely short and intense flashes of X-ray light of laser quality, thereby making possible research at a hitherto unachievable level of detail. The total cost of this large research facility will be approximately 275 million Swiss Francs, which will be largely borne by the Federal Government. However, Canton Aargau will also contribute 30 million Swiss Francs to the project.

Technology at the limit

With the realisation of SwissFEL, the Paul Scherrer Institute is reacting to the steadily increasing demand by researchers of access to X-ray free-electron lasers. In order to make the facility affordable, it is being designed to be as compact as possible. To achieve this, extremely precise technical components must be developed at the limits of what is currently possible. To this end, PSI is working closely with partners from Swiss industry. For example, TEL Mechatronics AG (formerly Oerlikon Mechatronics) is producing “copper cups” for the SwissFEL electron accelerator, to an accuracy of one-thousandth of a millimetre. Also, MDC Max Daetwyler AG is building large components of novel design for the magnet-undulators, within which the X-ray flashes will be generated.

The first energy-optimised X-ray free-electron laser in the world

Along with the much larger European XFEL, presently under construction in Hamburg, upon starting operation, SwissFEL will be one of only two hard X-ray free-electron lasers in Europe. Because of its compact and cost-effective design, it is expected that SwissFEL will be a trendsetter for the construction of future national X-ray free-electron lasers.

Furthermore, SwissFEL will be the first energy-optimised X-ray free-electron laser in the world. Its energy consumption will be drastically reduced in comparison with that of other facilities, and its waste heat will be recycled into the PSI heating network.

Research with its finger on the pulse of society

SwissFEL will enable insights to be gained into processes and structures that have so far been hidden from the eyes of researchers. It will allow for the first time the step-by-step observation of ultra-fast events, such as chemical reactions and biological processes. The detailed structure of vital proteins and the dynamic architecture of materials can, for example, be decoded, paving the way for applications ranging from targeted, highly-effective medication through more-efficient chemical procedures in industry to more environmentally friendly processes in renewable energy production. Thus, SwissFEL will make a contribution solving great social challenges of the future, such as securing our energy supplies, improving ecological sustainability and maintaining our health with rising life expectancy.
Additional information
Building rights agreement signed