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X-ray Free Electron Lasers: A combined virtual lab and real-lab experience of European XFEL (Hamburg) 2023

ECTS credits:



Course parameters:

Language: English

Level of course: PhD course

Time of year: Summer 2023

No. of contact hours/hours in total incl. preparation, assignment(s) or the like:


This course consists of two parts:

Part I: 24-28 July, 2023 in Hamburg

one week (40 hours) of lectures and classroom instructions, as well as on-site visits at the European XFEL and DESY (Hamburg).

Part II: 31 July – 11 August, 2023, off-line home assignment and online discussion via ZOOM

30 hours prepare (in groups) mock proposal

30 hours instruction of review process, review (in groups) other mock proposals and write review reports

5 hours Debating proposals within mock Proposal Review Panels and proposals ranking (zoom or in-person)

Plus 25 hours of course preparation.

In total: 130 hours


Capacity limit: 20 participants


Objectives of the course:

This graduate course is for PhD students and other researchers who wish to use X-ray free electron lasers (XFEL) in their research. The course provides the student with an introduction to the basics of the world’s most brilliant X-ray — XFEL and detailed functional view of contemporary XFEL beamlines around the world. This course features an innovation teaching method, using a Virtual Lab software to execute students’ own live experiments at European XFEL Hamburg. Students have opportunities to look inside each technical component and make live adjustment to align X-ray laser beams and collect physical meaningful data for a realistic experiment. It will cover the techniques of femtosecond X-ray emission spectroscopy and pump-probe femtosecond X-ray diffractions. The collected data will be analyzed in computer exercises and compared with real-world published results in the literature. In addition, the course will take place in European XFEL facility in Hamburg, Germany, including an on-site visit and tour in experimental hutches. Besides virtual-lab experiments, exercises, on-site visits, and lectures, students will also learn writing beamtime research proposals and get insight into the peer review process.


Learning outcomes and competences:

At the end of the course, the student should be able to:

  • describe the basics of X-ray free electron lasers (XFEL), including experimental concepts and main applications in chemistry, materials, and physics research.
  • conduct simple experiments of pump-probe femtosecond X-ray diffraction and/or time-resolved X-ray emission spectroscopy using XFEL facilities with the support of beamline scientist.
  • analyze XFEL data such as pump-probe femtosecond X-ray diffraction data and X-ray emission spectroscopy data in terms of quantification and visualization
  • compare XFEL with synchrotron X-ray scattering experiments and describe the uniqueness and advantages of XFEL.
  • develop ideas of how X-ray free electron lasers could be applied in his/her own research


Compulsory programme:

Participation in all course components, including lectures, virtual lab experimental, computer exercises and on-site visit at EuXFEL Hamburg, and online discussions.


Course contents:

Below is a preliminary outline of the course, subject to changes until course start.


Week 1

Sunday, Day 0

Arrival in Hamburg from Denmark, check into DESY Guesthouse

Monday, Day 1,, Big Seminar Room, XHQ (EuXFEL)

09:00                                           Arrival at EuXFEL from DESY

09:10                                           Welcome, C. Bressler, S. Wei

09:15-10:00       Robert Feidenhans’l: European XFEL introduction

10:00-10:30       COFFEE BREAK

10:30-12:00       Intro to VLab (C. Bressler), download/run software                       

12:30-14:00       LUNCH (beamstop)

14-17                                           XFEL tours (exp hall)

SASE2                                         MID, HED

SASE1                                         FXE, SPB/SFX

SASE3                                         SCS, SQS, (SXP)                                                                                                      

17-19                                           EuXFEL BBQ (Beamstop), tbc

Tuesday, Day 2, CFEL (Geb. 99), Seminarraum V im 1.OG (DESY)                        

09:15 - 10:00     speaker tbc,  XFEL Science

10:00 - 10:45     Time-resolved Femtosecond X-ray Diffraction experiments (theory/basics, not so much VLab, S. Wei)

10:45 - 11:15     COFFEE BREAK

11:15 - 12:00     Time-resolved-X-ray Emission Spectroscopy experiments (theory, including VLab, with C. Bressler)                                                

12:00 - 14:00     LUNCH

14:00 - 17:00     VLab work, some guided operation

ca 16:00                                      COFFEE break

Wednesday, Day 3, CFEL (Geb. 99), Seminarraum V im 1.OG (DESY)

9:00 - 12:00       VLab experiments, Q&A session, guided operation

ca 10:30                                      COFFEE Break

12:00 - 14:00     LUNCH

14:00-14:45       PETRA III introduction (H. C. Wille)

14:45-16:00       PETRA III tour (H. C. Wille)

16:00 - 16:30     COFFEE Break

16:30 - 18:00     students work on VL, download specific data (FLASH 28C)

Thursday morning, Day 4, CFEL (Geb. 99), Seminarraum V im 1.OG (DESY)

9:00 - 10:00       finish VL experiments (analysis, prepare talk)

ca 10:00                                      COFFEE Break

10:30 - 12:00     finish data collection, start interpretation

12-14                                           LUNCH

Thursday afternoon, Day 4,, FLASH Seminar Room, Geb. 28c (DESY) 

14:00-14:45       FLASH introduction (R. Treusch)

14:45-16:00       FLASH tour (K. Tiedtke, R. Treusch)

18:00 - …          DESY BBQ (FLASH 28C)

Friday, Day 5, CFEL (Geb. 99), Seminarraum V im 1.OG (DESY)

09-12                                           wrap-up + presentation drafting, 

12-14                                           LUNCH

14:00-17:00       Student presentations, feedback, Homework assignments

Week 2:

Saturday-Tuesday , Day 6-9 , Back to Aarhus

Tuesday-Friday (days 9-12):

Homework tasks: beamtime mock proposal writing within groups of 3-4 students

Friday 23:59: deadline for submission/upload of the mock proposals

Week 3: 

Monday, Day 15, remote online via ZOOM

9-10 ZOOM class: Instruction/guidelines for the peer review process (Chrisitian Bressler and Shuai Wei)

Off-line tasks:

Monday-Thursday:  peer review (within groups) of all other mock proposals 

Thursday Day 18

9-17 write review reports for the review committee, submission/upload by 23:59

Friday, Day 12, remote online via ZOOM

9:00 -12:00 Open debate of the proposals and rank the proposals (moderated by Chrisitian Bressler and Shuai Wei) 

14 -- 16:00 wrap-up and feedback 



Own Laptop (best: windows-based)
Notebook for notes
Bachelor degree or similar within natural science, technology, or medicine (e.g. basic courses such as Materials Chemistry I, or Solid State Physics, or Structural Chemistry I, or Physical Chemistry, or Inorganic Chemistry I, or Ultrafast Science, or similar)


Name of lecturers:

Martin Meedom Nielsson (Professor in Physics at DTU, to be confirmed)

Christian Bressel (Professor in Physics at Universität Hamburg and Lead Scientist at European XFEL)

Shuai Wei (Assistant Professor in Materials Chemistry at Aarhus University)


Type of course/teaching methods:

Lectures, Virtual Lab experimental exercises, computer exercises, on-site visit, online discussion.



  1. XFEL Virtual Lab script (provided by the course lecturer)
  2. P. Zalden, et al. Femtosecond x-ray diffraction reveals a liquid–liquid phase transition in phase-change materials. Science. 364, 1062–1067 (2019).
  3. W. Zhang, et al. Tracking excited-state charge and spin dynamics in iron coordination complexes. Nature. 509, 345–348 (2014).
  4. D. Khakhulin, et al. Ultrafast X-ray Photochemistry at European XFEL: Capabilities of the Femtosecond X-ray Experiments (FXE) Instrument. Applied Sciences. 10, 995 (2020).


Course assessment:

4-day take-home assignment.

Compulsory programme for participating the exam and obtaining the grade:

Participation in all course components, including lectures, virtual lab experimental, computer exercises, discussion, and on-site visit at EU XFEL Hamburg.



Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University

European XFEL

Hamburg University


Special comments on this course:

This course consists of two parts.

Part I: July 24-28, 2023 in Hamburg
one week (40 hours) of lectures and classroom instructions, as well as on-site visits at the European XFEL and DESY (Hamburg). Bus trip will be organized from Aarhus, Denmark. Accommodation will be on-site.

Part II: 31 July – 11 August, 2023, off-line home assignment and online discussion via ZOOM



24 July – 11 August, 2023



European XFEL (Hamburg) + online



Deadline for registration is 15 June, 2023 and is open for researchers from all Danish research institutions. Please note that the maximum number of participants is limited. Information regarding admission will be sent out no later than 1 July, 2023.

For registration: please send an e-mail to the local contact at Aarhus University, Assistant Professor Shuai Wei (shuai.wei@chem.au.dk), and/or Prof. Christian Bressler (christian.bressler@xfel.eu) at Universität Hamburg/European XFEL


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