The UK has officially joined the European X-FEL as the twelfth member state.
The facility creates intensely bright, pulsed, X-ray light, created using a 3.4 km linear accelerator. The pulsed X-rays enable samples to be studied at the atomic scale, with the additional potential of time resolved studies – each pulse has a duration of less than 100 femtoseconds.
For biologists, this offers the possibility of observing key processes, such as enzyme activity, protein folding, and drug and ligand binding.
The UK is already home to a £5.6m Wellcome Trust and BBSRC funded project to allow life science groups to access the X-FEL. This group, known as the X-FEL hub, is based at Diamond Light Source, led by Professor Jim Naismith, the interim co-academic lead of the Rosalind Franklin Institute.
There are a number of important challenges still to overcome to allow the research community and industry to benefit fully from X-FEL technology. Sample preparation and delivery are already a key focus for the X-FEL hub, and bringing together expertise in sample preparation tools for X-FEL with other techniques will allow seamless analysis and reduced sample preparation time.
The Rosalind Franklin Institute will be a leader in developing sample preparation and delivery solutions, enabling increased exploitation of both X-FEL and other emerging analysis techniques.
Professor Naismith says ‘Being a part of the European X-FEL is incredibly important for UK science. Research rarely happens on a single site – modern breakthroughs involve multiple techniques and partners, often located at high tech facilities such as the X-FEL. This shareholding, and the investment in the Rosalind Franklin Institute, mean that UK researchers have the best access to the best tools for life science research, which will lead to better drugs and better understanding of the fundamentals of life.’