Photo: Leif Jansson

Theme: Knowledge about invisible structures produce new materials

Wednesday 28 Sep 16


Henning Friis Poulsen
DTU Physics
+45 45 25 31 19


X-ray radiation is a form of high-energy, electromagnetic radiation. The higher the energy of the radiation, the shorter the wavelength—and the smaller the structures that can be examined.

For many years, physicists have been able to produce special high-energy X-ray radiation. This is done in the characteristic annular ‘synchrotrones’ where electrons with very high energy (three giga electron volts) circulate at close to the speed of light. The electrons are bent around the ring of powerful magnets. The deflection gives rise to the formation of high-intensity X-rays.

From the MAX IV’s electron storage ring, which has a circumference of 528 metres, the X-ray can be ‘tapped’ from the total of 19 planned beamlines located in radiation-protected laboratories, where they can be used for various types of studies, including 3D images of the inside of materials.

MAX IV was inaugurated on 21 June 2016.

Henning Friis Poulsen

Foto: Thomas Steen Jørgensen

Henning Friis Poulsen is in charge of DTU’s bridge-building between Danish businesses and the facilities in the MAX IV—and the nearby source of neutrons—ESS.

Danish universities and businesses will have direct access to the recently inaugurated X-ray facility in Lund, Sweden—MAX IV.

It is the latest Scandinavian contribution to what researchers are hailing as a revolution in the field of materials research—a revolution which will have a significant impact on our daily lives and the objects with which we surround ourselves.

In the coming years, a Danish so-called beamline—DanMAX—will be constructed using the MAX IV X-ray synchrotron in Lund. Danish researchers and businesses will thus gain direct access to some of the world’s most sophisticated equipment to see and study materials in extremely high resolution. This, in turn, means that Denmark will be strongly placed in the development of new advanced materials, says Professor Henning Friis Poulsen, DTU Physics:

“Modern-day society is a consequence of materials research. Research has given us stainless steel, glass and plastic—to name but a few everyday commodities. Materials that help to define our society—how we move—how we live. And the vast majority of the societal challenges we face today—whether it is green conversion in the field of energy or ensuring higher productivity for businesses—can only be solved with the help of materials research,” he says, explaining that, among other things, DanMAX will be used to pave the way for stronger materials for wind turbines, efficient and durable materials for energy storage, studies of natural materials, and food and the development of biomaterials that can be used in implants, for example.

Seeing the invisible

A key aspect of the research at the giant X-ray facility is the ability of researchers to see things that are otherwise invisible. With X-rays with a wavelength of just 0.01-1 nanometres, it is possible to see the structure of materials down to individual molecules and atoms—e.g. the microscopic, fine grains of metals, or the composition of materials for wind turbine blades, batteries, or fuel cells.

Viewing materials in this way, it becomes clear that they share some basic structures. They are all composed of atoms, for example. But just as with LEGO bricks, you can build extremely complex structures from atoms—on many length scales. Viewing the individual material as a homogeneous mass is thus an illusion. In reality, the majority of materials comprise many sub elements that are combined to create a uniform look visible to the naked eye.

Knowledge accelerates development

Manipulating these sub elements to produce materials with new properties is nothing new—on the contrary, it is the very backbone of modern society. What is new is that the past many years’ quantum leaps in materials research enables us to control this manipulation to an unprecedented degree—i.e. at the atomic, nano and microscale—to create new materials with new properties.

“With DanMAX, we can create 3D images and 3D films of the interior of materials, and study how they develop. For example, we can study a fuel cell to see what happens to the structures within the material under operating conditions,” explains Henning Friis Poulsen, who continues:

“Seeing how the materials behave makes it easier to understand them. This enables us to establish good computer models to simulate how they will behave in other compositions. The new technology is much faster than performing experiments in the laboratory—as was the case with the materials surrounding us today—and will vastly accelerate the process of developing new materials.”


  • DanMAX will be one of the a total of 19 lines in the MAX IV X-ray synchrotron which is under construction in Lund.
  • The line will have two stations—one for 3D imaging—the other for diffraction measurements. Imaging can be used to study materials’ internal structures, while diffraction measurements can show the atomic structure of molecules as well as the progress of chemical processes.
  • DTU researchers are helping to build the instruments.
  • Danish researchers will generally have access to all MAX IV beamlines on an equal footing with other researchers via review panels. In addition, Denmark will have an advance annual allocation of approx. 2,500 hours on DanMAX, paving the way for industrial projects, strategic research, and teaching.
  • DanMAX is expected to be ready by 2019 and will cost just under DKK 100 million to build (EUR 14 million).