Press Release of 28.06.2021

Fresh momentum for cutting-edge research from Germany

Three research centers of the Helmholtz Association have developed a joint strategy for accelerator-based light sources to strengthen research and innovation in Germany.

The Helmholtz Association’s light sources are not only truly versatile, but also complement each other. They can expose the Corona virus and track down new drug candidates. They analyze catalysts that harness sunlight to produce hydrogen, which could pave the way towards a carbon-neutral economy. They provide insights into completely novel types of materials that can help to advance digitalization. Together, these light sources help Germany maintain its innovative edge in many areas. To make sure it stays that way, we must develop tomorrow’s facilities today.

Photon Science Roadmap

Photon Science Roadmap

Foto: HZDR/S.Floss, HZB/S.Steinbach und DESY / C.Schmid


This is why three centers of the Helmholtz Association have jointly developed a national strategy for the further development of accelerator-based light sources. Their strategy paper, which is part of the Helmholtz Roadmap, was presented to the wider scientific community at the Helmholtz Symposium “Research Infrastructures of the Future” on June 28.

The three Helmholtz centers in Hamburg (DESY), Berlin (HZB) and Dresden (HZDR) are successfully competing within the international framework by operating the Helmholtz Association’s accelerator-based light sources. They also share a strong vision for the future. Their modernization plans will help maintain their leading international position in the field of light sources. In Germany, the facilities offer unique research opportunities in areas such as high-tech materials as well as the environment, energy, information technology, medicine, and cultural heritage.

Professor Helmut Dosch, Helmholtz research field coordinator Matter and Chairman of the DESY Board of Directors, explains: “Accelerator-based large-scale research facilities are indispensable for research projects from all scientific disciplines. With our light sources in Hamburg, Berlin, and Dresden, we are fulfilling an essential social mission and securing Germany’s international leadership position in this dynamic field of the future.”

Professor Sebastian M. Schmidt, Scientific Director of HZDR, adds: “This is precisely what distinguishes the Helmholtz Association: The questions of the future are on our minds today. It is this kind of foresight that allows us to keep pinpointing tomorrow’s research topics and to plan the infrastructures we need to develop groundbreaking solutions. We are now asking for broad support for our strategy to accomplish just that.”

Professor Jan Lüning, Scientific Director of HZB, emphasizes: “Our facilities supplement each other perfectly. With their complementary orientations, they fully cover the experimental technologies required by science. Our facilities are therefore guaranteed to meet whatever future challenges science and industry will confront us with and thus maintain a leading position internationally.”

By developing its light sources, the centers are setting a strategic course to offer appropriate solutions to current and future societal challenges.

Here is a brief outline of the planned updates:

At DESY in Hamburg, the existing PETRA III light source will be upgraded to PETRA IV. Its X-ray light can render images of the atomic structures of materials under live process conditions. More powerful batteries, new medical agents to combat widespread diseases, or tailor-made materials for quantum electronics: Once completed, DESY’s internationally unique 3D X-ray microscope will drive scientific progress with new, deeper insights into the nanocosmos.

BESSY III will be the new discovery machine for energy and materials research. Its soft X-rays reveal spatially resolved information about electronic properties. So-called operando techniques enable real-time research, providing new insights into the functionality of materials. This will open up realistic perspectives for high-tech materials to produce Green hydrogen via artificial photosynthesis as well as for quantum computers.

A new research facility with two superconducting electron accelerators is being built in Dresden: DALI will deliver terahertz and vacuum ultraviolet radiation. Its light will be used to decode materials for ultrafast data processing, which might succeed the 5G mobile communications standard. Biophysics will also benefit from the new facility, as the new machine will not only enable researchers to observe metabolic processes at the cellular level, but even to systematically control them.

As a further measure, the free-electron laser FLASH2020+ at the DESY site will be continuously modernized. Once the upgrade is completed, the FLASH facility will have a globally leading position in the field of free-electron lasers for soft X-rays as well as terahertz light.

The overarching strategy of the Helmholtz Photon Science Roadmap also includes continued participation in the internationally operated X-ray laser European XFEL.

A summary of the national strategy for the further development of accelerator-based light sources can be found at: (German only)

What is an accelerator-based light source (photon source)?

  • Accelerated electrons are used to generate highly intense light pulses from the infrared light to far beyond the X-ray range. With this synchrotron light virtually nearly all materials and samples can be investigated.
  • Photon sources include storage rings and free-electron lasers (FEL), which have different designs and serve different purposes: Storage rings are ring-shaped and produce short light pulses with high total intensity; FELs are linear and produce ultra-short, extremely intense laser flashes.
  • Some of these important research infrastructures are up to kilometers long.

Media contact:

HZDR: Simon Schmitt | Head
Phone: +49 351 260 3400 | Mobile: +49 175 874 2865 | Email:

HZB: Dr. Ina Helms
Phone: +49 30 8062 42034 I Email:

DESY: Dr. Thomas Zoufal I Press officer
Phone: +49 40 8998 1666 I Email: