Research Highlights

In this category especially chosen Research Highlights are presented in more detail, which have been published in a peer reviewed journal. Please recommend interesting papers, which are suitable for future highlights, to Wiebke Laasch.

29 November 2021

Investigation at PETRA III reveals unknown changes in nerve tissue of patients


What changes occur in parts of the brain affected by neurodegenerative disease? How does the structure of the neurons change? Some pathological changes in the tissue are easy to identify using standard microscopy. For example, the protein deposits known as “plaques”, which occur in Alzheimer's disease, can be seen with staining techniques. However, pathological changes can also be of a ...

19 November 2021

Tailoring of isolated attosecond light pulses


An international team of scientists from DESY, the University of Hamburg and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (USA) has achieved the direct generation of isolated attosecond pulses, i.e. pulses with duration in the order of 10-18 seconds. This was possible thanks to a novel laser source providing finely controlled optical field waveforms which allows ...

04 November 2021

Quantum Physics in Proteins


A new analytical technique is able to provide hitherto unattainable insights into the extremely rapid dynamics of biomolecules. The team of developers, led by Abbas Ourmazd from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and Robin Santra from DESY, is presenting its clever combination of quantum physics and molecular biology in the scientific journal Nature. The scientists used the technique to ...

27 October 2021

First results from PETRA III beamline P61B: Phase relations of the olivine–ahrensite transition


A research team from DESY and the Bayerisches Geoinstitut (University of Bayreuth) headed by Tomoo Katsura, studied an important transformation in olivine, the most abundant mineral on the Earth. At PETRA III, they determined the phase relations between olivine and its high-pressure modification, ahrensite, at 1740 K in the pressure range of 7.5–11.2 GPa. These are the first ...

25 October 2021

New yttrium carbide with unusual carbon groups was characterised at PETRA III


The main feature of organic chemistry is the exceptional variety of compounds that have arisen due to the ability of carbon atoms to combine with each other/bind together in unlimited quantities, forming molecules in the form of clusters, limited and unlimited in length chains and cycles. An even greater variety is achieved due to incorporation of oxygen, nitrogen and metals into carbon ...

19 October 2021

Atmosphere has strong influence on stability of novel solar cells


An international team of scientists led by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has used PETRA III to observe for the first time how different atmospheres affect the operation of novel high-performance solar cells. They discovered that vacuum leads to the rapid degradation of the structural composition and thus also ...

04 October 2021

Unprecedented view of a single catalyst nanoparticle at work


A DESY-led research team has been using high-intensity X-rays to observe a single catalyst nanoparticle at work. The experiment has revealed for the first time how the chemical composition of the surface of an individual nanoparticle changes under reaction conditions, making it more active. The team led by DESY’s Andreas Stierle is presenting its findings in the journal Science Advances. ...

23 September 2021

Water protects sensitive molecules from radiation damage


Water can protect small organic molecules from being damaged by X-rays. This is revealed by an experiment at PETRA III led by the University of Kassel. Instead of being torn apart by the electrical charge induced by the X-rays, the molecules are able to transfer some of that charge to the water and so remain intact, according to a detailed model produced by a team from the University of Heidelberg based ...

17 September 2021

X-ray insights may enable better plastics production


An X-ray study at DESY is pointing the way towards a better understanding of plastics production. A team led by Utrecht University investigated so-called Ziegler-type catalysts, the workhorses in the world's polyethylene and polypropylene production, at DESY's X-ray source PETRA III. As the scientists report in the journal JACS Au, the catalyst microparticles fragment into an astonishing ...

15 September 2021

Filming antibiotic resistance in Slow-Motion


Using the X-ray laser European XFEL an international team of researchers, including scientists from DESY, has successfully filmed a reaction step that is important for the development of antibiotic resistance. The molecular film captures the very rapid reaction of the enzyme beta-lactamase from tuberculosis bacteria with the cephalosporin antibiotic ceftriaxone in slow motion. The team reports the results ...

15 September 2021

Advanced Scattering Methods Enable to Solve Fifty-Year-Old Conundrum


Electronic phase transitions in solids manifest themselves as anomalies in macroscopic properties, such the magnetisation and electrical resistance. Prominent examples are the sharp increase in the magnetisation at a ferromagnetic phase transition or the drop in resistance at a superconducting transition. In the history of ...

06 September 2021

Momentum-space signatures of Berry flux monopoles traced in a Weyl semimetal


A team of scientists from the University of Würzburg, Kiel University and DESY and collaborating institutions used PETRA III for their experiments and found a way to trace Berry flux monopoles in a Tantalum arsenide crystal, a special type of magnetic monopole-like object in solids with particular properties.



Physics research has long ...

18 August 2021

Table-top electron camera catches ultrafast dynamics of matter


Scientists at DESY have built a compact electron camera that can capture the inner, ultrafast dynamics of matter. The system shoots short bunches of electrons at a sample to take snapshots of its current inner structure and is the first such electron diffractometer that uses Terahertz radiation for pulse compression. The developer team around DESY scientists Dongfang Zhang and Franz Kärtner ...

12 August 2021

Unexpected twist of catalytic nanoparticles


Nanoparticles that make up catalysts can arrange themselves in slightly different ways and behave significantly differently as a result. This is revealed by an X-ray study at DESY Nanolab and PETRA III. The study of palladium nanoparticles has  been published in the journal ACS Nano and provides systematic insights into the self-organisation of such catalyst particles.



11 August 2021

New fast compression techniques enable insights into phase transitions in bismuth


An international team of researchers led by DESY and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (US) investigated the influence of compression rate on pressure-induced phase transitions in bismuth. Elemental bismuth undergoes multiple structural phase transitions at pressures below 100,000 atmospheres (~10 GPa), adopting several ...

05 August 2021

Astonishing diversity: Semiconductor nanoparticles form numerous structures


The structure adopted by lead sulphide nanoparticles changes surprisingly often as they assemble to form ordered superlattices. This is revealed by an experimental study at PETRA III. A team led by the DESY scientists Irina Lokteva and Felix Lehmkühler, from the Coherent X-ray Scattering group headed by Gerhard Grübel, has observed the self-organisation of these semiconductor nanoparticles in ...

04 August 2021

Scientists observe “anti-freezing”


An international team including scientists from DESY has observed an amazing phenomenon in a nickel oxide material during cooling: Instead of freezing, certain fluctuations actually increase as the temperature drops. Nickel oxide is a model system that is structurally similar to high-temperature superconductors. The experiment, published in the journal Physical Review Letters shows once ...

21 July 2021

Novel computational framework streamlines ptychography imaging at FLASH


Microscopic imaging using X-ray free-electron lasers like FLASH enables studies of structural features with a resolution down to a few nanometers and has become a major field of these facilities worldwide. Among the pure imaging routines, X-ray ptychographic microscopy combines the advantages of X-ray scanning microscopy with the recently developed techniques of ...

20 July 2021

X-ray view of nanostructures


For many applications, materials can be made a great deal more efficient by giving them a specific nanoscale structure. A research team from the Universität Hamburg, DESY, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ESRF and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich has now turned its attention to self-organisation. Materials that organise themselves to create the desired structures, without the ...

08 July 2021

Timing molecular structural dynamics both excited and probed by extreme ultraviolet light


A large international collaboration of scientists from the Max-Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in Heidelberg, DESY, Heidelberg University, University of Münster and many others demonstrated for the first time an all-XUV (extreme ultraviolet) time-resolved absorption spectroscopy investigation of a small molecule: the photoinduced structural dynamics of diiodomethane. By ...

30 June 2021

Icy gold mixture


An international team of scientists led by DESY and Yonsei University in Seoul (Korea) has explored new ways of heating high pressure ices in a Diamond Anvil Cell at the X-ray laser PAL XFEL in Pohang (Korea) in order to reach unprecedented temperatures at the pressures commonly found in icy exoplanets. The mantle of exoplanets such as Mini-Neptunes or Uranus are largely composed of planetary ices of ...

14 June 2021

Laser pulses make nanomaterials sound


Nanostructuring of materials leads to completely new, often surprising properties; this makes them highly interesting for new fields of application and technologies. However, whether these materials can be processed into robust components and thus find their way into applications depends very much on their mechanical properties. These are usually particularly difficult to determine without changing them ...

10 June 2021

X-ray flash imaging of laser-induced bubbles and shockwaves in water


Everyone is familiar with tiny gas bubbles gently rising up in sparkling water. But the bubbles that were created by intense focused lasers in this experiment were ten times smaller and contained water vapour at a pressure around a hundred thousand times higher. Under these conditions, the bubble expands at supersonic speed and pushes a shockwave, consisting of a spherical shell of highly compressed ...

25 May 2021

Ultrafast lasers can protect a DNA building block from light-induced dissociation


An international research team led by DESY researcher Francesca Calegari and with the key participation of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) has demonstrated that ultrashort laser pulses can be used to protect one of the DNA building blocks against destruction induced by vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) radiation. The research group unveiled that a second laser flash in the ...

20 May 2021

Deep oceans dissolve the rocky shell of water planets


High-pressure experiments at PETRA III and the APS show that the hidden oceans of water planets selectively leach magnesium from typical rock minerals at conditions of pressures of hundred thousand atmospheres and temperatures above one thousand degrees Celsius. An international research team led by Taehyun Kim of the Yonsei University in South Korea reports its findings in the journal Nature Astronomy. ...

17 May 2021

A shortcut to promising high-density materials


An international group of researchers including from DESY has pioneered a new way of performing static high-pressure and high-temperature experiments, using so-called diamond-anvil cells at the X-ray laser European XFEL, and discovered a new, faster route to produce iron nitrides, promising candidates for high-density data storage and other applications. The scientists report their results in two ...

17 May 2021

Atomic structure of the type 7 secretion system of the tuberculosis pathogen solved


In a new study, published in Nature, CSSB researchers and international collaborators reveal new insights into the structure of a key system of the tuberculosis pathogen: Type VII secretion systems are molecular machines that play key roles in the infection cycle of many pathogenic mycobacteria, including the notorious Mycobacterium tuberculosis. A deeper understanding of the structure and ...

30 April 2021

Dance of the molecules


A Hamburg research team is paving the way for new methods of producing tailor-made materials: for the first time, the scientists from DESY NanoLab and the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) have deciphered the collective arrangement of organic acid molecules on an iron oxide surface at the atomic level. The formic acid molecules they studied perform a kind of dance in groups of three on magnetite ...

15 April 2021

Nanoantennas pave the way to compact petahertz oscilloscopes


A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Boston, USA), DESY, Universität Hamburg and the University of California at Davis (USA), has succeeded in generating electron pulses with a duration of only a few hundred attoseconds on metallic nanoantennas and used them to measure extremely weak electric fields. An attosecond (as) corresponds to the billionth part of a ...

13 April 2021

Microscopic origins of electrical conductivity in superheated solids revealed at FLASH


In-depth understanding of the electrical conductivity of matter is the key to many cutting-edge research and applications, ranging from phase-change memory in microelectronics to magnetospheres rooted in planetary interiors due to the motion of the conductive fluid. Unique states of material created by ultrafast table-top lasers or free-electron lasers (FEL) allow us to gain insight ...

02 April 2021

DESY X-ray lightsource identifies promising candidates for COVID drugs


A team of researchers has identified several candidates for drugs against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 at the X-ray lightsource PETRA III. They bind to an important protein of the virus and could thus be the basis for a drug against Covid-19. In a so-called X-ray screening, the researchers, under the leadership of DESY, tested almost 6000 known active substances that already exist for the treatment of other ...

31 March 2021

The egg in the X-ray beam


A team of scientists has been using DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III to analyse the structural changes that take place in an egg when you cook it. The work reveals how the proteins in the white of a chicken egg unfold and cross-link with each other to form a solid structure when heated. Their innovative method can be of interest to the food industry as well as to the broad field of research surrounding ...

25 March 2021

Unexpected new cubic symmetry in group IV alloys investigated at PETRA III


The group IVA column of elements (C, Si, Ge, Sn, Pb) occupies a prominent position in the periodic table. The cubic diamond symmetry (Fd-3m) is a prominent contributor to this position, as exemplified by super-hard cubic C and through cubic Si, the material driver behind the electronics industry. Using high-pressure, ...

23 March 2021

Scientists observe unusual melting of diamond


An international team of scientists including from DESY has found evidence of an unconventional melting process in diamond induced by an X-ray laser beam. While in conventional melting the atoms of a sample start moving stronger and stronger until their bonds break due to heating, the incredibly intense X-ray laser flashes ripped the bonds apart straight away, and only afterwards the atoms started moving ...

10 March 2021

Bacteria needle under the electron microscope


For the first time, researchers from CSSB have revealed the syringe-like type-III secretion system of Gram-negative bacteria in action. In the research study, published in Nature Communications, the group of Thomas Marlovits from the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) at the DESY campus provides new insights into how pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella infect human cells. ...

05 March 2021

Minerals let Earth's oceans seep down deeper than expected


A bigger volume of the world's oceans is seeping deeper into Earth's mantle than expected: That is the result of a study investigating a water-bearing mineral abundant in the oceanic crust. High-pressure experiments at DESY's X-ray source PETRA III show that the mineral glaucophane is surprisingly stable up to 240 kilometres underground, which means it also carries water down to this depth. ...

24 February 2021

Direct observation of charge separation in an organic light-harvesting system


Molecular heterojunctions receive significant attention due to their key role in a wide variety of emerging organic semiconductor applications, such as organic light-emitting diodes, field-effect transistors, spintronic devices, and photovoltaic cells. Understanding ultrafast dynamics of photon-to-charge conversion is paramount for optimising novel light-harvesting ...

18 February 2021

High-pressure experiments provide insight into icy planets


An international team of scientists has been using X-rays to take a look inside distant ice planets. At the PETRA III Extreme Conditions Beamline, they investigated how water ice behaves at high pressure, under conditions corresponding to those inside the planet Neptune, for example. At pressures up to almost two million times atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth, the researchers were able to ...

15 February 2021

Researchers watch nanomaterials growing in real time


For the first time, a team of scientists including from DESY has succeeded in capturing in real time the first few milliseconds in the life of a gold coating as it forms on a polymer. The team used PETRA III to observe the earliest stages in the growth of a metal-polymer hybrid material as a film of gold was applied to a ...

08 February 2021

Measuring chirps at extremely high frequencies at FLASH


A new method provides an ultra-fast plasma switch, which temporally cuts off parts of high-frequency light flashes. Carried trillions of times faster by light waves than by sound waves, these flashes sound like birdsong and cricket songs. This understanding opens up new possibilities for optimising state-of-the-art light sources and controlling elementary motions in ...

04 February 2021

New combined soft X-ray imaging spectroscopy technique


A collaboration coordinated by scientists from DESY has coupled imaging to X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS) to study quantum materials. For the design of future functional devices, like novel computers or data storage elements, it is necessary to structure these materials on the nanoscale. Although soft X-ray spectroscopy has ...

01 February 2021

Quantum beats for zeptosecond timing


Quantum systems will be crucial to future technologies. However, in order to use such systems in practical applications, it is necessary to control and manipulate them with great precision. At the PETRA III beamline P01 a Hamburg research team has now succeeded in controlling and measuring a quantum system with hitherto unattainable temporal precision. They managed to control and detect oscillations ...

26 January 2021

Towards ultimate time resolution correlation dynamic studies at PETRA IV


A research team from DESY has demonstrated for the first time the feasibility of employing intrinsic pulse structure of PETRA III to conventional X-ray Photon Correlation Spectroscopy to achieve nanosecond time resolution in studying dynamical processes of nanoscopic systems. They recorded the fastest correlation times with this technique at storage rings so ...

18 January 2021

Clocking the movement of electrons inside an atom


Hard X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs) have delivered intense, ultrashort X-ray pulses for over a decade. One of the most promising applications of XFELs is in biology, where researchers can capture images down to the atomic scale even before the radiation damage destroys the sample. In physics and chemistry, these X-rays can also shed light on the fastest processes occurring in nature with a shutter ...

15 January 2021

Nanomaterials from a 3D X-ray perspective


A new X-ray technique can be used to produce high resolution images of nanocrystals in real time as they are growing, something that has not been done before. To this end, a team from DESY and the University of Hamburg has created three-dimensional cross-sectional images of nanostructures from two-dimensional projections taken through a chemical reactor. The scientists achieved this using multi-slice ...

11 January 2021

A clear path to better insights into biomolecules


Using the world's most advanced X-ray laser, European XFEL, an international team of scientists including from DESY has obtained some of the sharpest possible 3D images of gold nanoparticles. The results lay the foundation for getting high resolution images of macromolecules, as the team led by Kartik Ayyer from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter reports in the ...

04 January 2021

Exploding water jet in X-ray beam


An interdisciplinary team of scientists, including from DESY, has used ultrashort X-ray pulses to image extremely rapidly exploding jets of water. The experiments, carried out at the X-ray laser facility European XFEL, aim to study ultrafast events that occur in a very small region by means of X-ray holography. “As an example of such an event, we opted for a fine water jet which is made to explode ...