The world’s largest X-ray laser opens Friday, September 1 in Germany, promising to shed new light onto very small things by letting scientists penetrate the inner workings of atoms, viruses and chemical reactions, AFP reports.

World's largest X-ray laser

The mega-project will generate extremely intense laser flashes, at a mind-boggling rate of 27,000 per second, inside a 3.4-kilometre (2.1-mile) tunnel up to 38 metres (125 feet) below the northern city of Hamburg.

This ultrafast strobe light will allow researchers for the first time to look deep inside matter and take snapshots and films at the nano-level, scientists at the European XFEL project say.

Teams from around the world will be able to, for instance, map the atomic details of viruses, take 3-D images of the molecular make-up of cells or film chemical reactions as they happen, using this X-ray laser technology.

The huge X-ray laser is “like a camera and a microscope that will make it possible to see more tiny details and processes in the nano-world than ever before,” Robert Feidenhans’l, chairman of the project’s management board, told AFP.

The applications are sweeping — images of biomolecules may help understand and treat illnesses, while a peek inside a building material might explain why it tears or cracks.

The light beams can also be bundled to create extreme pressure and temperatures to study process like those at the Earth’s core.

The project was spearheaded by the Hamburg research centre Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (Desy), which has operated a particle accelerator since the 1960s.

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