Where photons will fly

Today was one of those work days that makes working at the European XFEL fun, despite all challenges and frustrations. Around lunchtime, I found myself standing in one of the photon tunnels of the facility.

Photon tunnel from the future Experimental Hall

We were giving a tour of our biggest construction site to external visitors. I was thoroughly distracted from my growling stomach.

Photon tunnel wall (1)

As the name says: when the facility starts operating in a few years, this is the tunnel one of the photon beams will run through. When you look closely, you can see that every piece of concrete wall material is connected via a little metal bit to every other piece of wall. This is to turn the entire tunnel wall into a Faraday cage, to prevent any electromagnetic contamination of the outside that could be caused by the extremely high energy beam. I should mention that all tunnels are at a depth of 6 bis 38 meters below the surface.

The tunnel boring progress is updated frequently on our website. If you’re seriously interested in the tunneling itself (it really is cool stuff), there’s an interesting short film at the bottom of the German part of the site – this is because the information is primarily aimed at the neighbours surrounding (and living above) the construction area.

Turning around and heading back into the future Experimental Hall of the facility, we almost got squished by a flying backhoe.

Fly, little backhoe! (1)

Well, not quite.

About steffi suhr

Once upon a time, I was an enthusiastic and hopeful biological oceanographer who did a bunch of work in the Antarctic. I was alternately wearing labcoats or extreme weather clothing and hard hats, but have long since swapped survival suits for dress suits and do science management, currently as the BioMedBridges project manager at the European Bioinformatics Institute. I still like to use my brain. I'm a German serial expat, currently - again - living in the UK.
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9 Responses to Where photons will fly

  1. ricardipus says:

    Very interesting Steffi, thanks. Presumably, all those concrete pieces have steel rebar or similar inside them as well?

    But – I’m sure I could create a photon tunnel much more cheaply:

    1) dig tunnel
    2) turn on flashlight

    Voilà! A tunnel with photons in it. Sorted. And it would only cost, oh, let’s say 10 million Euros or so. 😉

  2. rpg says:

    Awesome stuff, Steffi. And I even know what an XFEL is, given a piece I wrote for The Scientist a few months back (http://the-scientist.com/2011/07/01/smashing-crystals-2/). A truly stunning and amazing piece of kit.

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    So many thoughts and jokes occur that I don’t know which one to lead with. I’ll just make a list.

    – those must be some pretty damn big photons

    – flying backhoe? Shake hands with danger, Steffi!

    – boring is so interesting

    I’ll get me coat

    • steffi suhr says:

      Concerning shaking hands with danger – we were asked specifically not to use our mobile phones during the construction site visit, since we needed to watch our steps and “talking on the phone would be very distracting”.

      They didn’t say anything about taking pictures and posting them on facebook……

  4. cromercrox says:

    Silly questions from an ignoramus – these are X-ray photons, yes? Why the long tunnels? Will the tunnels be evacuated? And so on and so fifth forth.

    • steffi suhr says:

      Nothing silly about those questions, Henry – and (since I’m being yanked away from the computer as I am typing this) I am extremely lucky that our PR team seems to have answered them in a news item from June this year! (With pictures of some of my favourite colleagues, too!).

  5. steffi suhr says:

    I missed that, Richard – thank you! Yes, Henry is located at CFEL – there is serious FEL-related activity in Hamburg now, with big plans for the next decade and beyond, and CFEL basically concentrates the users of the various facilities. I can see their fancy building from my office window – it’s almost done now!

  6. Frank says:

    Awesome! That’s one big piece of kit. The markings on the tunnel wall, eg in the second photo, remind of Egyptian hieroglyphic decoration.

  7. steffi suhr says:

    You’re giving me ideas here, Frank…

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