My walk to work

I like my morning walk to work. After parking my bike near the side entrance of the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) campus, I first pass one of the experimental halls being constructed adjacent to the PETRA III synchrotron ring, before walking by the entrance to the site where the new Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) building will stand. The daily changing landscape and flurry of activities within this small area of Hamburg never cease to fascinate me and I often pause to take it in. I enjoy these moments before I reach my office to see what the day has in store for me and before the campus really awakes and wish I could sit here together with my son watching the cranes move stealthily across the skyline, the cement mixers churning away, and the diggers and trucks moving like busy beetles over the uneven ground. He would love it too.

This year DESY marks 50 years of photon science and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), including the EMBL outstation here on the DESY campus, celebrates its 40th birthday. But although this small spot of Earth is steeped in fascinating history and stories, I am equally in awe of the changes currently going on around me. At the PETRA III synchrotron ring roofs were recently added to two new experimental halls which will house yet more beamlines and host more visitors in addition to the already existing 280m long hall with 14 custom made experimental stations. The CSSB, an interdisciplinary centre focussing on infection biology, brings together scientists from a range of disciplines from nine partners from across north Germany, (including EMBL and DESY). A few weeks ago the foundation stone was laid at the site where its building will stand in a year or so from now, housing some 180 scientists on 13000m2 and with direct access to the PETRA III experimental hall. Just around the corner from PETRA III, not far from the recently completed Centre for Free Electron Laser science – a joint enterprise from the University of Hamburg, DESY and Max Planck Institute – a second hall is being built for free electron laser (FLASH) experiments. A few 100 metres further still, the impressive building site for the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) disappears into the ground where tunnels have been dug some 3km into the next state of Schleswig Holstein. Through these underground tunnels, accelerators will fire extremely high speed and high energy pulses of light with which scientists hope to be able to observe biological and chemical processes in action.

I am truly in awe of the sheer scale of these endeavours and the dreams, vision and enthusiasm attached to them. These projects sprouting out of the ground here in Hamburg epitomise what I love about modern science – that is to recognise that to answer the challenges of our time, science cannot be done in an ivory tower but needs to reach out across geological and disciplinary borders, and create an integrative and open environment. Of course this can bring new, unknown challenges of its own, but I hope this philosophy will continue to flourish on the DESY campus and that I can do my best to contribute to it for a while longer.

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