Dear DESY colleagues: it's so good to have you back again!

This summer newsletter is, like so much at DESY, a real community effort. In particular, for our DESY inform survey on the topic of racism – compelled by the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter movement and the statement from DESY Director Helmut Dosch against racism and discrimination – we've come to talk to you on the Hamburg and Zeuthen campuses. The answers were as diverse as they were honest, critical, and reassuring. Above all, they give impetus to listen better in the future, reflect more often, and just do things differently.

Your opinions, your names, your stories – they are the centrepiece of this issue of the newsletter!

So too do the signs point to the future: young researchers, visionary ideas, ambitious projects – everything starting with an A, like Action! Arik Willner writes about innovation, Alva Noto talks about listenable astroparticle physics. Ayan Paul on a new COVID app. And the Italian Enrico Allaria – he's the new project leader at FLASH2020+ – writes about his motivations to move from Trieste to Hamburg.

The DESY inform team wishes everyone a happy and healthy start to the late summer.


DESY's greatest attraction is its scientific diversity

by Enrico Allaria, new project leader, FLASH2020+

At the end of my Ph.D., when I moved from Florence to Trieste and joined the FERMI free-electron laser project, I enjoyed working on the development of the seeded FEL facility, but I also enjoyed the international character of the city as well as its location at the north of Adriatic Sea. Now, after 15 years, it is time for a second move. After my first days in Hamburg I’m pleased to see that there are several common aspects with Trieste. Not only the big port at the center of the city – also the culture and the many options for enjoying the city environs make Hamburg a perfect place to be. But, as a scientist, the largest attraction to Hamburg is coming from the variety of scientific possibilities available at DESY, which, in my case, materialised in the FLASH2020+ project.

The upgrade will allow us to conduct completely new experiments with FLASH2020+. This will be possible thanks to the fully coherent pulses generated from the renovated FEL beamline, which will be triggered by an external laser. Each of these laser pulses has the same properties as all the other pulses. This means that experiments can be reproduced very accurately, and highly precise measurements can be repeated several times. In combination with the high repetition rate, which is only available at FLASH, this is an enormous advantage, especially for experiments that rely on very small signals. In addition, a further upgrade is being discussed towards generating ultrashort pulses approaching the sub-femtosecond range. This will enable us to study processes with a time resolution of less than 0.000 000 000 000 001 seconds!

The generation and use of coherent X-ray pulses is a rapidly growing area of research. I therefore hope that the developments at FLASH2020+ will contribute to progress in this exciting field.

FLASH2020+: millions for the modernisation towards ultrashort snapshots

Fifteen years ago, FLASH went into regular user operation as the world's first X-ray laser. It was former Federal Chancellor Schröder who pressed the start button to a DESY success story that had already started in its test phase beginning in 1997. FLASH showed for the very first time that a mirrorless laser principle could work in the X-ray regime and that sharp pictures of sample objects could be made with X-ray lasers before the intense beam of light would vaporise it. Over the years, FLASH has been continually developed further. Even now, the X-ray laser pioneer is being extensively modernised for around 35 million euro. In the 2030 Strategy paper, the project was named as FLASH2020+ and since July, Italian scientist Enrico Allaria is at DESY to take up FLASH2020+'s reins.

Faster, brighter and more flexible – check here for details about FLASH's five-year makeover

DESY's innovation ecosystem: here's how we are actively setting up the future

by Arik Willner, Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

In uncertain times of crisis like these, futurologists sometimes speak of historical moments in which the future changes direction. So what about the future of high-tech companies? What about Germany's innovative ability?

There was an atmosphere of anticipation when the crown hung on the crane arm above the construction site of the Start-up Labs Bahrenfeld in Hamburg at the beginning of June. The topping-out ceremony on Luruper Hauptstraße was like a motivational boost. From summer 2021 on, start-ups and young high-tech companies that line up with the scientific research on our campus will move into the Innovation Centre, located between FLASH and CFEL.

Especially now, these young company founders need our support through cooperation and the competencies of our research centre in order to gain a foothold in economically difficult times and achieve long-term success. But right now, we in the network between science, business, and society also need new impulses and visionary ideas in order to jointly drive forward innovations in the interest of everyone.

The Start-up Labs Bahrenfeld is a joint project of DESY, Universität Hamburg, and the City of Hamburg, with which Science City Hamburg Bahrenfeld is also taking shape. Concrete inquiries from potential tenants have already been received for almost all the available spaces.

Major project number two in our innovation ecosystem is the DESY Innovation Factory. It will be a holistic technology and start-up centre for young companies and visionaries in the fields of medical technology, pharmaceuticals, biotech, and new materials. The DESY Innovation Factory is scheduled to be completed and merge with the current DESY Innovation Village in 2025.

However, we are not only building (up) new infrastructures for start-ups – in the field of innovation and technology transfer (ITT) we are promoting many new ideas and promising inventions. One example is the Corona App CoVis, which our colleague Ayan Paul is helping to develop as part of an international team. The next step is the foundation of a company, which is supported by the DESY Start-up Office. And there is more forward-looking news: DESY has proposed a National Analytics Platform for Molecular Infection Control. You can read more about both projects in this DESY inform newsletter.

Big data, big effects: team of DESY theorist develops a new COVID app

In the age of COVID-19, the world moves between intuition and official recommendations. In June, the German government published the Corona-Warn App, which registers possible contact with infected persons via Bluetooth. But DESY theorist Ayan Paul wanted even more and took part in the COVID-19 Hackathon Challenge put on by the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With success! Together with a young, international team, he developed the COVID app CoVis. The app is intended to help minimise the individual risk of infection and support authorities and companies in developing new health concepts. The next success: for its app, the team received funding from the DESY Strategy Fund's call for COVID-relevant research projects. Now Ayan Paul and the CoVis team want to found a start-up. DESY's Innovation and Technology Transfer (ITT) department is supporting the project.

Read more

Ideas born out of a crisis: new DESY initiative to fight against infectious disease

How can DESY better contribute to coping with a future pandemic? This question was the origin of the DESY initiative "National Analytics Platform for Molecular Infection Control" (aside from the experiences gained from COVID-19 research at DESY). It's a protection plan against future pandemics, with its origin in the COVID crisis.

More information


Astroparticle physics for the ear: gamma rays sound like this

Using the special High-Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) telescopes, a DESY-led research team has for the first time detected the double star Eta Carinae as a new source of highly energetic cosmic gamma radiation. It's grandiose – but at first, it seems a downright objective description. So to make this scientific success more visually comprehensible, the design studio Science Communication Lab produced an impressive video animation based on the research results of the astroparticle physicists.

In the next step, the universe became audible: for the first time, the internationally celebrated multimedia artist Carsten Nicolai, who uses the pseudonym Alva Noto for his music, composed sound for a DESY animation. Acoustic signals for space: it crackles and scratches, roars and rustles. Powerful, mystical, disturbingly beautiful! Nicolai transformed tremendous energies into minimalistic aesthetic sounds and thus turned a scientific animation into a work of art. With DESY inform, the sound genius spoke about acoustic associations and the parallels between art and research.

Read more


Against racism: DESY employees take a stand

In his statement against racism and discrimination, the words of DESY Director Helmut Dosch were clear: "DESY will work to ensure that the international research community positions itself even more clearly against racism and discrimination and promotes diversity in research," he said in June.

And now? How do we get from statement to action? "These topics always need adequate attention in our daily work," says DESY's Administrative Director Christian Harringa. And Christian Stegmann, DESY's Director for Astroparticle Physics, adds: "For us, it's not only an obligation, but a simple necessity to take action against racism and to take a position in society."

An opportunity for change! We thought to ourselves: Let's ask you first. On the campuses in Hamburg and Zeuthen, we listened to your reactions to the statement and honest experiences, deeply reflected. "Just because it doesn't happen to me doesn't mean that the problem doesn't exist," says Krishnayan Basuroy, for example. And it does happen to him. Stefan Ohm pleads for more listening as the first step, Naireeta Biswas for learning from one another. Tobias Piekatz talks about cosmopolitanism in action at DESY. And Mwai Karimi quotes an apt saying: "What you allow is what will continue."

See what DESY colleagues had to say


Progress in COVID-related research

In the search for a medicine against COVID-19, more than 5000 potential drugs have been screened at DESY's PETRA III X-ray source since March for their effect on the virus' main protease. Interim results show that 46 active substances docked to the protein. The Hamburg-based Bernhard-Nocht-Institute has so far examined 23 of these in cell cultures for the inhibition of virus replication. The preliminary result is currently under review; it looks like six of these agents actually inhibit the RNA replication of the virus. This is a further step on the way to a potential drug. The next step will be to try to improve the antiviral activity of these active ingredients by making minor chemical changes. Meanwhile, the tests on PETRA III are expected to enter the next round soon. Alke Meents' team will then investigate the chemical binding of the active substances to another protease.

Cosmic data collector is up and running in Zeuthen

DESY's first detector from the Armenian SEVAN project is fully operational in Zeuthen. Colleagues on site set it up and tested it during the reduced COVID-19 operation mode and later shipped it off. A second detector will soon be put into operation in the school laboratory on the Hamburg campus. Other detectors in the network – "SEVAN" stands for Space Environment Viewing and Analysis Network – are located in Armenia, Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, and Slovakia. They can be used to investigate cosmic weather effects caused by increased solar activity. The data from the detectors are publicly accessible via Cosmic@Web, a tool for online analysis developed at DESY, especially for students and pupils.

New relation management tool enters DESY test phase

Communication, networking, and linking decision-makers and cooperation partners from industry, science, and politics are all essential for DESY. In order to simplify and intensify these processes, a new software is currently being introduced – a CRM. The abbreviation stands for "Customer Relation Management" and is a tool for recording contacts and creating distribution lists.

Read more about the CRM here

Water: the strangest chemical in the world

Dihydrogen monoxide sounds impressively chemical, somehow dangerous – but it's necessary for life and, really, it's just plain water. H2O. Why water is the weirdest liquid in the world, and how the interdisciplinary Centre for Molecular Water Science at DESY advances water research – you'll find this and more in the new issue of DESY's research magazine femto. You can find copies all across the campus now.

Check out the latest issue of femto here


Theoretical physcist Roberto Peccei dies

On 1 June, the theoretical physicist Roberto Peccei died at the age of 78 in his home city of Los Angeles. The Italian native, who led the DESY Theory group from 1984 to 1989, gained great fame for his work, especially on the Peccei-Quinn Symmetry, which he had developed with his colleague Helen Quinn. This symmetry explained an important problem found in quantum chromodynamics, the theory behind the strong force. The symmetry predicted a new, light elementary particle, the axion, which is today the subject of research around the world.

Read more


School labs: research can start up again

The time of the abandoned lab bench will soon be over: by the end of August at the latest, the first school classes are supposed to return to the school lab to do experiments at the Hamburg campus following the interruption because of COVID. Of course this will happen under strict hygiene rules and safety measures, with small groups and big distances, shorter working times and staggered breaks. "What's new is that the classes will need to be split up: a maximum of twelve pupils per group," says Karen Ong, the leader of the school laboratory. And: "No more pairs – pupils will work alone." The programme and the lab spaces will be adapted for the new requirements. The vacuum laboratory will also be rearranged. And needless to say wearing masks in the school laboratory is mandatory.

From the classroom to the control room: Beamline for Schools finale returns to DESY!

The winning teams of this year's international Beamline for Schools (BL4S) comeptition come from Germany and Switzerland. Their proposals for science experiments at a particle accelerator went up against those from almost 200 other teams around the world. Starting on 23 September, the two winning teams will perform their research plans for two weeks at DESY. Scientists from CERN and DESY will be at their side. "We are excited to get to know the next generation of scientists," says DESY Director Helmut Dosch. BL4S is organised by CERN and is in its seventh iteration this year. Up to now, over 11 000 teenagers from 91 countries have taken part in this unique competition.

Read more


A great honour: DESY Director Helmut Dosch is now a Leopoldina member

Now the Chancellor will also get his advice! DESY Director Helmut Dosch has been selected as the newest member of the storied academic society Leopoldina. The selection is in recognition of his personality as a researcher and his scientific achievements, says the academy's executive board. The Leopoldina was founded in 1652, and since 2008, it has functioned as the German National Academy of Sciences. Among other activities, it advises politicians on societally relevant topics, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.


DESY inform team:
Project management: Kerstin Straub
Editorial management: Kristin Hüttmann
Editorial team: Christina Mänz, Barbara Warmbein, Till Mundzeck
Editorial contributions: Joseph Piergrossi, Thomas Zoufal
Production: Stefanie Fahlfeder, Britta Liebaug

photo credits:
DESY: Marta Mayer, Gesine Born, Joseph Piergrossi, Karen Ong, Martin Beye, Ulrike Behrens, Susann Niedworok
Science Communication Lab, iStock, Shutterstock, Andrey Bold