Free-electron laser FLASH


FLASH2020+: Lucas Schaper Takes Over as Head of the Project

The FLASH2020+ project is DESY’s latest upgrade for the free-electron laser FLASH. Many technological improvements will increase the flexibility of the machine and enable the production of even brighter light in the future for the users. Since July 2020, the project has been led by seeding expert Enrico Allaria. On September 2021, he handed over the management of the ambitious project to DESY colleague Lucas Schaper, who has worked shoulder to shoulder with Enrico since the start of the project.

Lucas Schaper (left) takes over the management of the FLASH2020+ project from Enrico Allaria (right).[Photo: DESY/M. Mayer]

FLASH2020+ Kick-Off Meeting 3-Jul-2020
FLASH2020+ Kick-Off Meeting 3-Jul-2020

Impression from the virtual Kick-off meeting of the FLASH2020+ project at DESY on 3 July 2020, including images of the speakers (Credit: DESY).

FLASH2020+ technical design phase started

Making FLASH brighter, faster and more flexible

The technical design phase of the FLASH2020+ project at DESY started with an internal virtual kick-off meeting. Over 270 participants mainly from DESY and the campus in Hamburg joined the project team online on 3 July 2020. Key topics were the upgrade project of the free-electron laser (FEL), scientific goals, the embedding at DESY and the international landscape, the project structure and its timeline over the next five years.

The FLASH2020+ project is based on the long history of FLASH at DESY, from its inception as a test facility for the TESLA project in the mid-90s of the last century to the worldwide first XUV to soft X-ray FEL user facility ten years later. With the FLASH2 project, it is now the first FEL that runs two independent undulator lines in parallel, again about ten years later.

In 2020, yet another ten years later, the project is right in time to make the next step forward with the facility where especially the external seeding and shorter pulses will enable new and unique scientific opportunities. The upgrade will keep FLASH at the forefront of science with FELs for the next decade, as highlighted by Edgar Weckert, director in charge for DESY Photon Science. The importance of the project for the DESY strategy to further advance DESY’s machines and to develop new technologies for future accelerators was stressed by Wim Leemans, the DESY director of the accelerator division. With such a project, DESY contributes also to the technical developments in FEL science and teaching of the next generation of scientists.

The FLASH2020+ project is be led by Enrico Allaria, who presented the project phases, timeline and structure. He is an expert from the FEL “FERMI” in Trieste (Italy) and has just started to work at DESY.

Further information (slides) from the FLASH2020+ kick-off meeting web pages.

application/pdf FLASH2020+: millions for the modernisation towards ultrashort snapshots (904KB)
Press and Public Relations - FLASH2020+
DESY Press and Public Relations - Mai 2020

FLASH, the world's first XUV and soft X-ray free-electron laser (FEL), is available to the photon science user community for experiments since 2005. Ultra-short X-ray pulses shorter than 30 femtoseconds are produced using the SASE process. SASE is an abbreviation for Self-Amplified Spontaneous Emission. The SASE or FEL radiation has similar properties than optical laser beams: it is transversely coherent and can be focused to tiny spots with an irradiance exceeding 1016 W/cm2.

The FLASH facility operates two SASE beamlines in parallel: FLASH1 and FLASH2. The electron pulses of FLASH come in bursts of several hundred pulses, 10 bursts per second. The pulses of a burst are shared between the two beamlines providing FEL radiation for two experiments at the same time - with the full repetition rate of 10 Hz. A third beamline houses FLASHForward,
a pioneering beam-driven plasma-wakefield experiment.

The aerial view shows the FLASH facility with its two experimental halls "Kai Siegbahn" and "Albert Einstein" (August 2015).

The SASE process is driven by high brightness electron beams. At FLASH1, the wavelength of the X-rays is tuned by choosing the right electron beam energy. The FLASH accelerator provides a range of electron beam energies between 350 MeV and 1.25 GeV covering a wavelength range between 52 and 4 nanometers (nm). See the table below for details.

FLASH2 has new modern undulators with the possibility to change the gap between the magnetic poles of the undulator magnets. This changes the magnetic field and thus the wavelength of the radiation. With a given beam energy, the experiment at FLASH2 is able to change the wavelength in a wide range without influencing FLASH1.

FLASH - Schematic layout of the facility.
FLASH - Schematic layout of the facility.

Schematic layout of FLASH. Not to scale. The two main SASE beamlines FLASH1 and FLASH2 are in operation for user experiments. A third beamline runs the FLASHForward plasma acceleration experiment.
Image: DESY/Siegfried Schreiber

image/png FLASH layout.png (234KB)

FLASH superconducting accelerating modules. Seven modules are installed, each module has a length of 12 m.

FLASH: from the extreme ultra-violet to the water window

The FLASH accelerator is equipped with seven 12 m long TESLA-type superconducting accelerating modules. Each module contains eight 1 meter long superconducting accelerating cavities operated a radio frequency of 1.3 GHz. The cavities are made of solid niobium and are cooled by liquid helium down to 2 K. At this temperature - just 2 degrees Celsius above the absolute zero -, niobium is superconducting so that the acceleration field can be applied with very small losses. This makes a superconducting accelerator very efficient.

Right after the installation of the seventh module in 2010, the FLASH team accelerated an electron beam to an energy of 1.25 GeV. With this energy, soft X-rays with a fundamental wavelength of 4.1 nm could be produced. For the first time FLASH has generated soft X-ray FEL radiation in the so-called water window. So far this was only possible at FLASH with the third and fifth harmonic of the fundamental wavelength, which are by a factor of thousand fainter.

The water window is a wavelength region between 2.3 and 4.4 nanometers. In the water window, water is transparent to light, i.e. it does not absorb FEL light. This opens up the possibility to investigate samples in an aqueous solution. This plays an important role especially for biological samples, because carbon atoms in these samples are highly opaque to the X-ray radiation, while the surrounding water is transparent and therefore not disturbing.

A selection of FLASH electron beam and photon pulse parameters.
The unit for brilliance is B=photons/s/mrad2/mm2/0.1%bw. Note, that exact values depend on various conditions. Not all combinations within the parameter ranges given are possible.




Electron beam energy

0.35 - 1.25 GeV

0.4 - 1.25 GeV

Normalised emittance at 1 nC (rms)

1.4 mm mrad

1.4 mm mrad

Energy spread

200 keV

500 keV

Electron bunch charge

0.1 - 1.2 nC

0.02 - 1 nC

Peak current

1 - 2.5 kA

1 - 2.5 kA

Electron bunches per second (typ./max)

300 / 5000

300 / 5000

Photon energy (fundamental)

24 - 295 eV

14 - 310 eV

Photon wavelength (fundamental)

51 - 4.2 nm

90 - 4 nm

Photon pulse duration (FWHM)

<30 - 200 fs

<10 - 200 fs

Peak Power (from av.)

1 - 5 GW

1 - 5 GW

Single photon pulse energy (average)

1 - 500 µJ

1 - 1000 µJ

Spectral Width (FWHM)

0.7 - 2 %

0.5 - 2 %

Photons per Pulse

1011 - 1014

1011 - 1014

Peak Brilliance

1028 - 1031 B

1028 - 1031 B

FLASH produces also THz radiation

FLASH1 is equipped with an electro-magnetic undulator able to produce Terahertz (THz) radiation pulses. The THz pulses are produced by the same electron bunch than the SASE radiation. Therefore, both pulses, the soft X-ray and THz are perfectly synchronized (better than 5 femtoseconds).

Parameters of the THz radiation at FLASH. Note, that the exact values depend on pulse length and wavelength chosen.




10 - 230 µm

Photon energy

5 - 125 meV

Photon frequency

1.3 - 30 THz

Photon pulse energy (average)

10 - 100 µJ

First external seeding at 38 nm

The FLASH1 beamline has a section equipped with variable gap undulators for seeding experiments (sFLASH). In April 2012, first seeding at 38 nm has been obtained. The seed source was radiation from high harmonic generation (HHG). An external femtosecond short laser pulse is focused into a gas cell producing higher harmonics of the laser wavelength. This radiation is overlapped with electron bunch and seeds the amplification process in the undulators. The advantage compared to SASE is the narrow bandwidth of the radiation pulses. This is advantageous for certain classes of experiments, where a small bandwidth is required. Today, the sFLASH experiment concentrates under the new name Xseed on the preparation of external seeding in the frame work of the FLASH2020+ project.

The FLASH Accelerator

FLASH is a high-gain free-electron laser (FEL) which achieves laser amplification and saturation within a single pass of the electron
bunches through a long undulator section. The lasing process is initiated by the spontaneous undulator radiation. The FEL works in the so-called Self-Amplified Spontaneous Emission (SASE) mode without needing an external input signal.

The electron bunches are produced in a laser-driven photoinjector and accelerated by a superconducting linear accelerator. The RF-gun based photoinjector allows the generation of electron bunches with a tiny emittance - mandatory for an efficient SASE process.The superconducting technique allows to accelerate thousands of bunches per second, which is not easily possible with other technologies. At intermediate energies of 150 and 450 MeV the electron bunches are longitudinally compressed, thereby increasing the peak current from initially 50 to 80 A to 1 to 2 kA or more - as required for the SASE process to develop.

The FLASH1 undulators.

FLASH1 has a 27 m long undulator made of permanent NdFeB magnets with a fixed gap of 12 mm, a period length of 27.3 mm and peak magnetic field of 0.47 Tesla (K=1.23). The electrons interact with the undulator field in such a way, that so called micro bunches are developed. These micro bunches radiate coherently and produce intense X-ray pulses. Finally, a dipole magnet deflects the electron beam safely into a dump, while the FEL radiation propagates to the experimental hall.

application/pdf FLASH (54KB)
schematic layout (pdf)
Image: DESY / Siegfried Schreiber
image/jpeg FLASH (683KB)
schematic layout (jpg)
Image: DESY/Siegfried Schreiber
An electron gains an energy of 1 electron volt (1 eV) moving across an electric potential difference of one volt (1 V). An every days battery has a voltage of 1.5 V.
One megaelecton volts (MeV) is a million volts; one gigaelecton volts (GeV) is a thousand million volts.

Visible light is in the wavelength range between 380 and 760 nm. 1 nm is a millionth of 1 mm. The size of a molecule is about 1 nm.

The wavelength range of XUV radiation (also called EUV) is in the range of 120 to 10 nm, soft X-ray radiation from 10 to 0.1 nm. Hard X-rays are shorter than 0.1 nm. FLASH produces radiation from the XUV to the soft X-rays.

An outstanding feature of FLASH is to produce ultra-short radiation pulses in the XUV and soft X-ray wavelength range.
Many thousands per second. The radiation pulses have a duration of less than 100 fs. In specific arrangements less than 10 fs.

One femtosecond (= 1 fs) is equal to 10-15 seconds. In one femtosecond, the light travels only 300 nm. To the moon, the light needs 1 second.

You may imaging that you need these extraordinary conditions to study dynamics in molecules or even atoms which are of the size of nanometers.