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3 questions about the European XFEL to Serguei Molodtsov

Professor Dr Serguei Molotsov is Scientific Director of the European XFEL x-ray laser. The Russian physicist came to Freie Universität (FU) Berlin in 1991 as a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation. What is the significance of working at the European XFEL for him personally, and how would he assess the importance of this research facility for international cooperation?

Germany recently became home to the world's largest x-ray laser, the European XFEL. The x-ray flashes generated in the 3.4 km long system of underground tunnels allow the tiniest particles and extremely fast processes to be studied with an unprecedented level of precision.

European XFEL x-ray laser

Professor Molodtsov, as one of three Scientific Directors of the European XFEL, one of your areas of responsibility is the research programme conducted on the x-ray laser. What does it mean for you to be involved in this project?

Serguei Molodtsov: I joined the European XFEL project a long time ago and I must say that this was a great turning point in my scientific career. Becoming Scientific Director of the European XFEL opened up a completely new and unknown area of activities for me, naturally combining project management and exciting opportunities to continue research at the frontiers of science.

I have learned a lot during several years of very hard work. On September 1, 2017 our whole construction team celebrated the inauguration of the most powerful x-ray free-electron laser facility world-wide – the European XFEL.

Initial users have performed unique measurements in the experimental hutches located deep underground. Presently, we are developing new plans for further exciting advancements of our facility. I am extraordinarily proud to be a member of the European XFEL project.

What makes the European XFEL so important?

Serguei Molodtsov: The European XFEL is the world’s largest x-ray free-electron laser generating ultrashort light flashes. The facility features globally unique possibilities for researchers from science and industry to pursue discoveries in the nanocosmos towards a future use in society. At the European XFEL, novel accelerator technologies provide scientists with a powerful tool for investigating the atomic structure and dynamics of matter. As a result, a whole new world of research possibilities has become accessible.

Scientists, for example, will be able to understand and guide the fabrication of novel materials, to unravel the structure and function of biomolecules and use this knowledge to search for new pharmaceutical products, to examine states of matter in the laboratory that are naturally found only in the interior of planets and stars, and to provide important clues to solving the energy problems we face.

Personal details

Professor Dr Serguei Molodtsov has been Scientific Director and Member of the Management Board of European XFEL since 2010. The Russian physicist came to Freie Universität Berlin in 1991 as a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation and has been a member of the global Humbold-network ever since. In 2013, he was appointed Professor for Structure Research with XFEL and Synchroton Radiation at TU Bergakademie Freiberg. Since 2016, he has been Professor at the ITMO University in St. Petersburg. Furthermore, he is an honorary professor at the University of Dresden.

You have been a Humboldtian for more than 25 years. What does international cooperation, one of the principles of the European XFEL, mean to you?

Serguei Molodtsov: I am extraordinary thankful to the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation for giving me the unique opportunity to collaborate with many excellent from all over the world during my initial stay in Germany at Freie Universität Berlin (Department of Physics – AG Kaindl). Particularly during my work in Berlin, I learned the outermost importance of truly international cooperation for fruitful and productive research.

The unique research opportunities at the European XFEL are attracting top-level scientists from many countries, not necessarily only those that are partners of the project. Altogether, we have representatives of 45 nationalities employed at our facility. This brings together very different national scientific cultures, forming disciplines that challenge and foster one another. From this interplay grows a multitude of ideas that can lead to concrete fundamental discoveries, but also to applied developments, new products and product improvements.

Interview: Sabine Giehle

Can we achieve it together? How big does research need to be?

The European XFEL was only possible because 11 European countries were involved in developing and building it. What do you think? Do we need large-scale projects such as these, and do we need international cooperation to address the challenges of the future? Discuss this with us and other alumni in the Community Group “Studium, Forschung und Bildung” (Study, Research & Education)!

Community discussion

November 2017

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