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.

23 September 2022

Asteroid dust in the X-ray beam of PETRA III

In a spectacular mission, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 collected rock samples from the surface of asteroid Ryugu and brought them back to Earth in December 2020. A large international team is now analysing the extraterrestrial material. Researchers Frank Brenker from Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Laszlo Vincze from Ghent University and Gerald Falkenberg from DESY and their teams were among the first to ...

21 September 2022

Water is seeping deeper into Earth than expected

Water is transported deeper into Earth than scientists had expected. An X-ray study at PETRA III of water bearing minerals show these compounds to be stable even under conditions of the lower mantle. “Within these minerals, water can be transported as far as 1300 kilometres underground,” explains Xinyang Li from DESY and GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, main author of the study. “That is ...

16 September 2022

Size matters in functional materials

A collaboration lead by DESY scientists has found a surprising behaviour of the quantum material vanadium dioxide (VO2) at the high-brilliance X-ray source PETRA III. Vanadium dioxide switches from an insulator into a conductive metal at a very common temperature of approximately 70°C and is therefore very much in the focus of researchers as a possible functional material. Together with colleagues from Kiel ...

01 September 2022

New ant genus named after DESY

An international team of scientists led by Friedrich Schiller University Jena has identified a previously unknown extinct ant in a unique piece of African amber about 20 million years old. The team used PETRA III to examine the critical fossil remains from 13 individual animals at a specialised measuring station operated by Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon and realised that these could not be attributed to any known ...

29 August 2022

Rare insights into growing nanoparticles

How exactly do nanoparticles form in solution? Researchers from Universität Hamburg and DESY have now been able to observe at PETRA III the growth of nanoparticles in solution in real time. In the journal Nature Communications, they report on their observations using the method of X-ray ptychography, which provides a microscopic view of the dynamic processes.

Hollow nanoparticles with sizes in the ...

26 August 2022

How do molecular motors convert chemical energy into mechanical work?

Molecular motors are complex devices composed of many different parts that consume energy to perform various cellular activities. In short, molecular machines transform energy into useful work. Understanding the mechanistical aspects underlying these motors begins with generating a detailed description of their overall architecture and atomic organisation. However, to uncover the core mechanisms energizing these ...

24 August 2022

Surface imaging technique at FLASH illuminates potential improvements in plastics production

Consider the humble plastic food wrapper. It may seem like a simple clear film that wraps a loaf of bread or fruit gummies, but these films are less simply composed as it seems. Each individual layer must be chemically treated so that it adheres well to the next. In their efforts to adapt an established X-ray analysis method to X-ray lasers, DESY scientists in collaboration with researchers at the Leibniz Institute ...

22 August 2022

New add-on could enhance the research opportunities at X-ray lasers

The Photo Injector Test Facility (PITZ) at DESY in Zeuthen has reached a major milestone: a free-electron laser (FEL) driven by the photoinjector has generated its first laser light in the Terahertz (THz) wavelength regime. Pulses with a wavelength of about 0.1 millimetres were produced with a repetition rate of up to one Megahertz. The laser is the first high-power Terahertz FEL worldwide working according to the ...

19 August 2022

Natural substances show promise against coronavirus

Three natural compounds present in foods like green tea, olive oil and red wine are promising candidates for the development of drugs against the coronavirus. In a comprehensive screening of a large library of natural substances at DESY's X-ray source PETRA III the compounds bound to a central enzyme vital for the replication of the coronavirus. All three compounds are already used as active substances in existing ...

26 July 2022

Salutary delay in the reaction of crystal atoms to avalanche of photons

Using X-ray laser pulses, the structure of matter can be studied with previously unprecedented accuracy. However, the pulses are so intense that they destroy the sample being irradiated. Notwithstanding, an international team of physicists has just succeeded in demonstrating that atoms of the crystal under investigation react to an avalanche of photons with a certain delay. The discovery means that by using ...

12 July 2022

Research team investigates nano-crystals for greater strength of sandstone at DESY

Many historical buildings were built of limestone, such as Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral. Limestone is easy to work with, but does not withstand weathering well. It consists mainly of calcite minerals that are relatively weakly bound to each other, which is why parts of the stone keep crumbling away over the years, often requiring costly restoration and conservation treatments.

However, it is ...

11 July 2022

Study at PETRA III on toxic soil

When exposed to fire, chromium compounds in the soil can transform from harmless chemical forms into potentially toxic time bombs, a research team from the University of Bari “Aldo Moro” and the Polytechnic of Bari in Italy and DESY has discovered with the help of DESY's X-ray source PETRA III. The result is published in the scientific journal Journal of Hazardous Materials.

Chromium is found almost ...

15 June 2022

High-speed imaging of microchips

A new method speeds up X-ray imaging of extended samples like microchips. The innovative technique makes it possible to study relatively large objects to nanometre fine details in a reasonable amount of time. That is not only interesting to science but also to industry, as the developer team led by DESY scientist Mikhail Lyubomirskiy writes in the journal Scientific Reports.

“X-rays have the ...

13 June 2022

Sharp X-ray images despite imperfect lenses

X-rays make it possible to explore inside human bodies or peer inside objects. The technology used to illuminate the detail in microscopically small structures is the same as that used in familiar situations – such as medical imaging at a clinic or luggage control at the airport. X-ray microscopy enables scientists to study the three-dimensional structure of materials, organisms or tissues without cutting and ...

07 June 2022

Scientists watch moving charge density in real-time

An international research team led by DESY scientist Tim Laarmann has for the first time been able to monitor the quantum mechanically evolving electron charge distribution in glycine molecules via direct real-time measurement. The results – obtained at DESY´s brilliant free-electron laser FLASH – are published in the scientific journal Science Advances. Better knowledge of the quantum effects in the motion of ...

06 June 2022

Full-body synchrotron imaging of roundworms reveals nanoparticle accumulation

Scientists working at DESY’s PETRA III light source have been able to generate the first synchrotron-based X-ray map of the whole body of an organism at such a high resolution that contaminants could be detected at the individual cell level. The research team was able to identify cerium nanoparticles in the digestive system of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans while also determining that the nanoparticles ...

24 May 2022

Mixing laser- and X-ray-beams

Unlike fictional laser swords, real laser beams do not interact with each other when they cross – unless the beams meet within a suitable material allowing for nonlinear light-matter interaction. In such a case, wave mixing can give rise to beams with changed colors and directions.

Wave-mixing processes between different light beams are one cornerstone of the field of nonlinear optics, which is ...

23 May 2022

Using X-rays to identify liquid mirror molecules

Sugars, amino acids, drugs - chiral molecules that come in two mirror forms are everywhere. Researchers in the AQUACHIRAL project at the Fritz-Haber-Institut (FHI) have used PETRA III to study hair-thin liquid jets of these molecules. Using a new method, they can now for the first time distinguish their components in liquid form – and more effectively than ever before, as the ...

19 May 2022

FLASH opens up new paths for surface research

Researchers from Universität Hamburg, European XFEL and DESY have succeeded in looking at details of molecular orbitals at DESY's free-electron laser FLASH. The team reports in the journal Nature Communications on the new method, which makes it possible to observe the temporal change of the wave function of molecules. These changes are crucial for reactions of molecules on surfaces and can lead to new insights into ...

11 May 2022

PETRA III shines a light on efficient production technique for a novel ‘green’ fertiliser

A purely mechanical method can produce a novel, more sustainable fertiliser in a less polluting way. That is the result of a method optimised at PETRA III. An international team used DESY's light source to optimise the production method that is an adaptation of an ancient technique: by milling two common ingredients, urea and gypsum, the scientists produce a new solid compound that slowly releases two chemical ...

09 May 2022

Live view into methanol synthesis

An international research team led by researchers of Stockholm University (Schweden) has for the first time been able to study at PETRA III the surface of a copper-zinc catalyst when carbon dioxide is reduced to methanol. A better knowledge of the catalytic process of methanol synthesis and the possibility of finding even more efficient materials opens the door for a green transition in the chemical industry. The ...

11 April 2022

A bright future for research at high-pressures and temperatures at PETRA III


PETRA III is currently the only synchrotron facility that operates a Large Volume Press (LVP) with six hydraulic rams at a beamline. Measurements under extreme pressure and temperature conditions can be performed here to study materials in situ under conditions similar to the interior of the Earth. In the last couple of years since user operation started, the capabilities expanded significantlly ...

11 April 2022

Record X-ray laser time resolution achieved

After being illuminated with light, the atoms in materials react within femtoseconds, i.e. quadrillionths of a second. To observe these reactions in real time, the experiment setup used to capture them must operate with femtosecond time resolution too, otherwise the resulting images will be “blurred”. In a proof-of-principle experiment at the European XFEL, a research team comprising of European XFEL and DESY ...

07 April 2022

Live view into catalyst materials


A new X-ray study offers unprecedented possibilities for analysing catalysts and other materials with a porous structure. The work marks an important step towards tailor-made porous materials and can thus contribute to saving emissions and raw materials in a more sustainable chemistry, as the team led by Thomas Sheppard from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) reports in the journal Advanced ...

25 March 2022

Putting on 3D glasses: Digital twin accelerates development of better biofibres


A team of scientists from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm and DESY has developed a so-called digital twin for X-ray experiments and used it to study the production process of novel biofibres. The digital twin allows the experimental data to be interpreted much more fully, thereby improving the quality of the fibres produced. Until now, X-rays have been used to experimentally observe ...

17 March 2022

Biomolecular building blocks gripped by laser

Laser pulses that briefly grab hold of floating molecules and align them precisely in space – this may sound like an original but academic party trick, however the technique which the team led by DESY’s Jochen Küpper is now presenting in the scientific journal Nature Communications has great potential for research, too, because arranging molecules in a precise spatial configuration is an important precondition ...

09 March 2022

Reconstructing the refraction and attenuation in a sample directly from scattered X-rays

In X-ray microscopy, it is often the optics that limit spatial resolution or cause distortion in the image. A radical way to get around this problem is to omit the optics altogether. The price of this ‘lensless’ microscopy is that the image must be calculated from the intensity pattern formed on the detector by the light scattered from the sample. But the calculation yields more than just an image: It provides a ...

09 March 2022

X-ray view of subducting tectonic plates


Earth’s thin crust softens considerably when it dives down into the Earth attached to a tectonic plate. That is demonstrated by X-ray studies carried out using PETRA III on a mineral which occurs in large quantities in basaltic crust. This softening can even cause the crust to peel away from the underlying plate, as an international team led by Hauke Marquardt from the University of Oxford reports ...

08 March 2022

Advances in micro-computed tomography

Researchers in biomedical physics and biology have significantly improved micro-computed tomography with high brilliance X-ray radiation, combining a newly developed microstructured optical grating with new analytical algorithms. For their development, the team around Julia Herzen from Technical University of Munich (TUM) used the PETRA III beamline P05 of Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon. The new approach that is described ...

23 February 2022

Molecule snapshot by explosion

Exploding a photo subject in order to take its picture? An international research team of scientists including from DESY at the world's largest X-ray laser, the European XFEL, used this “extreme” method to take pictures of complex molecules. With the ultra-bright X-ray flashes generated by the facility, the scientists were able to take snapshots of gas-phase iodopyridine molecules with atomic resolution. In the ...

15 February 2022

Bio-templated titanium dioxide templates for molecule detection

Surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) is one of the most efficient technology for sensing of biomolecules, trace detection of pollutants and monitoring catalytic reactions. For the fabrication of a low-cost SERS substrate with high stability and biocompatibility, semiconductor metal oxide nanomaterials (SMONs) have attracted substantial attention. Among various SMONs, titanium dioxide is an excellent candidate ...

14 February 2022

Functional “frozen smoke” from the 3D printer

A research team from Universität Hamburg and DESY has developed a new method to 3D print aerogels. The technique employs gel-like inks infused with nanoparticles. Different from earlier approaches, the ink does not require any additives. Aerogels, often referred to as frozen smoke because of their fluffy structure, are super-leightweight materials with a surprising strength and a wealth of applications. In the ...

24 January 2022

Cosmic chemistry in the lab

Using DESY's free-electron laser FLASH, scientists have recreated some of the harsh environment of interstellar space in the lab and analysed the reaction of astrochemical molecules to these conditions. The results show a comprehensive picture of the dynamics of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) under extreme ultraviolet radiation in a vacuum – resembling the cosmic environment between the stars of our ...

18 January 2022

Sub-picosecond metamagnetic phase transition in FeRh

Spintronics, the manipulation of electron spins and magnetic moments, is aimed at supplying an alternative to conventional electronics technology which uses the change of electronic states to store and transfer information using binary bits. At FLASH, an international research team, including the Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC) in Brno (Czech Republic) and the University of Mainz, has now addressed ...

17 January 2022

Researchers discover cause of puzzling seismic discontinuity

At a depth of 660 kilometres, there is an abrupt change in the speed at which seismic waves travel through Earth's interior. However, for hitherto unknown reasons this striking seismic discontinuity splits into two below cold subduction zones, where the oceanic crust sinks into the mantle below the continental crust. With high-pressure experiments at PETRA III and at the Japanese X-ray light source SPring-8, a ...

14 January 2022

Watching the charge move in photoexcited molecules

An international research team led by Markus Gühr’s group at the University of Potsdam performed laser experiments at FLASH to monitor charge motions in light-excited molecules of thiouracil, which is a modified nucleobase. This class of molecules has a variety of medical applications, including possible novel cancer therapies. Their basic research now published in Nature Communications opens up the possibility ...

13 January 2022

Unraveling the active sites in new Zn-based catalyst for efficient propane dehydrogenation

The economic and environmental importance of catalysis research can hardly be overestimated. Basically, almost any commercial product nowadays has been in direct or indirect contact with some kind of catalyst during the production process. The need for more sustainable products is a challenge for the chemical industry since many products are still made of fossil sources, like e.g. oil. Due to their high stability, ...

11 January 2022

Hexagonal Si-Ge class of semiconducting alloys prepared by using pressure and temperature


A team of scientists from European and US research institutions have succeeded in synthesizing and characterizing a complete new bulk Si-Ge materials landscape, important for optoelectronic applications. The conditions under which each composition of this new materials landscape is formed, pressures of between 12 and 17 GPa and temperatures of 1500–1800 K, are reported in ...

06 January 2022

Nanoparticles that store hydrogen


An innovative approach could turn nanoparticles into simple reservoirs for storing hydrogen. The highly volatile gas is considered a promising energy carrier for the future, which could provide climate-friendly fuels for airplanes, ships and lorries, for example, as well as allowing climate-friendly steel and cement production – depending on how the hydrogen gas is generated. However, storing ...