XFEL Tunnel
The completed XFEL accelerator tunnel in Hamburg, GermanyEuropean XFEL / Heiner Müller-Elsner

The world's largest laser x-ray gun will begin operations in September this year in Hamburg, Germany. Called the European X-ray free electron laser (XFEL), the gun will be able to capture and reveal images at a sub-atomic level.

XFEL is expected to assist researchers and scientists in making scientific breakthroughs in various fields from chemistry to information technology. This instrument will be able to render, in 3D, nano-scale snapshots, map molecular structures of viruses, and also film chemical reactions as they happen in real time according to a report by phys.org.

What is of particular interest is the potential that this laser x-ray has in the study of biological molecules. These molecules change their structure while performing their tasks akin to mechanical machines. And now, it could be possible to create a slide show like film sequence owing to XFEL's ultra-short pulses.

Robert Feidenhan'l, chairman of the European XFEL management board, describing the device's potential said XFEL works like a powerful "camera and a microscope that will make it possible to see more tiny details and processes in the nanoworld than ever before."

XFEL complex has been built outside Hamburg in Germany, buried in tunnels 38 metres underground. XFEL is also home to the world's longest superconducting linear accelerator– a type of particle accelerator that constructed in a straight line– that provides the laser with required energy. The accelerator is 1.7km long and generates X-ray flashes that are a billion times brighter than even the best traditional sources, reports phys.org.

XFEL flashes
To generate the extremely short and intense X-ray laser flashes, bunches of high-energy electrons are directed through special arrangements of magnets (undulators)European XFEL

The US National Accelerator Laboratory in Stanford, California has the biggest laser X-ray system currently operational and it produces 120 X-ray flashes per second. In comparison, the XFEL produces 27,000 flashes per second, which is 200 times more than its closest competitor.

Construction of this project started in 2009 after an international agreement was drawn between ten European countries says the XFEL site.

The project has been valued at €1.5 bn (£1.3bn) and it replaces the FLASH, also in Germany, which till 2009, was the only free electron laser that could produce short wave UV radiation, notes phys.org.