Europe’s Shiny New X-Ray Laser Starts Showing Its Worth

Scientists used the EuXFEL to reveal the structures of the tiniest proteins

4 min read
Photo: European XFEL
Atomic Resolution: This instrument is specially designed to help scientists study biomolecules and individual particles that are 1 micrometer or smaller.
Photo: European XFEL

The European XFEL, or EuXFEL—currently the largest X-ray free-electron laser in the world—produced its first light in May 2017. The facility, built in a 3.4-kilometer tunnel near ­Hamburg, Germany, was commissioned in September of last year. And August 2018 brought another milestone—the publication of the first scientific paper based on experiments with the laser, which the authors used to probe the 3D structures of protein microcrystals.

More results are sure to come as the laser ramps up to full operation. Already, more than 500 researchers from 20 countries have visited the facility to investigate structures of crystalline materials, biomolecules, viruses, and chemical reactions. Two experimental stations are now available to the scientific community, but by 2019, the facility should have six stations supplied with pulses from three X-ray lasers. The cooling requirements of the current design limit it to delivering no more than 27,000 pulses per second, but researchers envisage increasing this to a continuous stream of pulses.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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