Henrik works at Germany's largest accelerator centre

01 August 2022

For Henrik S. Jeppesen the postdoc position is not solely about conducting his independent research. In fact, it takes up a minority of his working hours.

Six months before Henrik S. Jeppesen finished his PhD project at Aarhus University, he was convinced that he would pursue a career in the industry, but then he read about an open position as a beamline scientist at PETRA III, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), which is one of the world’s leading institutions investigating the structure and function of matter.

3,000 guest researchers a year

‘I changed my mind when I saw the job post. The position as a beamline scientist is not the average postdoc job, because you spend 80 percent of your working hours on the beamline and 20 percent on your own research, but I really like the combination,’ says Henrik S. Jeppesen, who is one of the Danish scientists working at DESY in Hamburg.

DESY has several large particle or electron accelerators used to study the fine structure of materials on an atom by atom level. One of the largest accelerators, PETRA III, has a circumference of 2.3 km and is used accelerate electrons to a very high speed and generate the strongest X-ray light in the world. It is this X-ray light which is used to study matter more closely. The research centre in Hamburg attracts researchers from all over the world, mainly from Europe. Every year more than 3,000 researchers apply and get permission to use the facilities at DESY to conduct research in e.g. material science, structural biology, astroparticle physics, a field that combines methods from astrophysics, cosmology, and particle physics.

‘User support is an important part of my job. I help the researchers get the most out of the time slot they have available and support with data analysis after their experiments. I also develop new set-ups for the beamline and most of the time I even work a little bit with a screwdriver around the beamline’, says Henrik S. Jeppesen, who works on a beamline dedicated to studies of the atomic scale structure of polycrystalline materials.

An enormous scientific instrument

He finished his PhD journey within the SDC Nanoscience theme with the project “Unravelling the importance of material structure for their physicochemical properties”. Henrik S. Jeppesen has always been interested in and fascinated by material sciences and especially the physics behind synchrotrons, and he has dedicated his research to continuing and developing his research results from his PhD project.

‘It is fascinating to be a part of the development of an enormous scientific instrument like a synchrotron. To have an instrument of that size to perform one specific job is quite unique’, says Henrik S. Jeppesen.

He likes to share his knowledge with the visiting researchers, and he draws on his experience from his time as a PhD student where he taught students. Also, the experience from collaborating with his Chinese colleagues has turned out to be valuable. Being a host for researchers from many other parts of the world requires a good sense for interacting with different people, and it is essential that everything is running smoothly, when the researchers are visiting the electron synchrotron, since their assigned time is limited and valuable.

DESY is Germany's largest accelerator centre, where PETRA III has 25 beamlines available for researchers. He is on a three-year contract at DESY, and with two year left there is plenty of time to find out if he will go for a permanent position as Beamline manager, leading scientist or give the industry a try.

Read a recent article about SDC Nanoscience PhD student Thorbjørn Erik Køppen Christensen, who used DESY for experiments on the mantis shrimp.