It's a small world
DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE WITH DESY
Mark Rutty reports from Hamburg, and delves into an unfamiliar world.
THE BIG QUESTION
Journey to the centre of the Milky Way, surf the eddies of the cosmos, and you may, someday, unravel the secrets of the Universe: those immeasurable boundaries, the grails of discovery that define human endeavour: How did everything begin? Where do we come from? How does the fantastic machine, the human being, work? Our senses, our body, our brain?
Sometimes, to understand the bigger picture, you have to look much, much closer: in scientific terms, the micro-cosmos and a world measured in nanometers.
At the forefront of this research, and leading the scientific pack, is DESY - Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron - A Research Centre of the Helmholtz Association. Founded on 18th December 1959 in Hamburg--by means of a treaty signed by the federal minister for atomic energy, Siegfried Balke, and the then mayor of Hamburg--DESY gained their first understanding of a world hitherto unexplored.
In the decades that followed, DESY established itself as a centre of excellence for the development and operation of high-energy accelerators. Now, more than fifty years on, with sites both in Hamburg and Zeuthen, DESY is the largest German research facility for particle physics. With a resident workforce of 2000, annually DESY still attracts more than 3000 researchers from 45 different countries, who take advantage of their facilities and their collective expertise.
At their Hamburg site, and situated deep underground, lies the more than 6km circular tunnel of HERA, DESY'S revolutionary particle accelerator. Here, the collision of electrons and protons--and the high energy particles they release--offer a greater insight into the smallest building blocks of matter, and the agencies that govern nature.
Katja Kroschewski, DESY'S Head of Technology Transfer Department, extols their achievements. "HERA provided the world with the clearest image of the structure of the proton," she says, adding proudly, "and these results will be in our school textbooks for many years."
Speaking of DESY'S ongoing projects, and their particle accelerator's present incarnation, Katja adds, "Our latest Synchrotron is Petra 111, the most brilliant light source of its kind at the moment; it allows us to look very much closer into the nano-cosmos."
After some tough questioning, Katje is keen to set out DESY'S ethos. "All of our efforts, and all our thinking goes towards what is beneficial to society. Our researchers are very sensitive to these issues, and DESY--within its statutes--is only allowed to conduct research on civilian projects," she says. "Looking at the smaller world, with a view to saving energy, and with a view to saving the climate, and especially with ways of improving health conditions and research into pioneering treatments."
DESY is publicly funded with 90% of their revenue being provided by the German Federal State. The remainder comes directly from the State of Hamburg. Katja explains further, "We are allowed to generate additional revenues, for example, by industry customers who come to use our light sources. Then we have companies who use our facilities for research and development. But our greatest source of revenue is public funding."
"They are extremely important to us," Katja says, when asked about their suppliers. "And we have a very special relationship, because we have special needs. All the components that we build in the accelerator: from vacuum fields, electronic components, and radiation safety; we have lots of key developments going on here. We may, for example, need a prototype for something, and so we approach that company, and they gain first-hand knowledge on a new technology."
With echoes of a symbiosis usually only found in nature, Katja acknowledges, "Dependancy is a little bit on both sides, because without them we couldn't build our infrastructure; but then they also might develop new technologies, because we tell them how to refine and improve."
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
The International Linear Collider (ILC) will soon be realised by using the superconducting TESLA technology developed by DESY. This same technology, employed by the free-electron laser FLASH at DESY and the European XFEL X-ray laser (which is currently under construction), will offer unprecedented insights.
Speaking proudly of DESY"S future, Katja Kroschewski says, "With the development of the XFEL X-ray laser, it may someday be possible to see how a virus attacks a cell, and study how that cell reacts in real time. This is essential to the advancement of medicine, for example, the ongoing research, and perhaps even a potential cure for many types of cancer."
The kind of cross border cooperation, so conspicuously lacking on the political front, appears to foster a global duty of care within the scientific community. "We try to identify, especially at Technology Transfer, what is beneficial to society in the work we do here," Katja concludes. "And we share our expertise and knowledge with the world."
So before this reporter dons his space-suit, to blast off in pursuit of a moonbeam, it seems that the answers to the big questions can be found much closer to home, here, at DESY.