E.U. Offers €5 Million for Middle Eastern Synchrotron

Peace project. The SESAME building in Jordan.


The European Union today announced that it is contributing €5 million toward SESAME, a groundbreaking project to build a synchrotron light source in the Middle East. SESAME, which stands for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, has nine member countries and has drawn support from many nations and organizations around the world because of its twin aims of providing front-rank science in the region and fostering political understanding between often-hostile neighbors.

Some $50 million has already been invested in SESAME, in funding, buildings, and donated hardware. The local member states are paying the project's operating costs from their minimal science budgets, but more money is still needed to complete the first phase of construction by 2015. Four members—Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey—have each pledged an additional $5 million; the €5 million announced by the European Union today will pay for new magnets—to be built by CERN, the European particle physics lab near Geneva—for the synchrotron's main ring. A further $10 million is still needed to achieve the 2015 target.

"SESAME is one of the most important projects in the world right now," CERN Director-General Rolf-Dieter Heuer said in a statement today. "[W]ith its close parallels to the origins of CERN, I am very happy that we are able to make this important contribution to the young laboratory's success."

Synchrotrons are particle accelerators that are used to produce intense monochromatic x-ray light for studies in physics, biology, materials science, and archaeology. More than 60 such facilities exist worldwide, but there are none in the Middle East. The idea for SESAME was born in the 1990s when U.S. physicist Herman Winick suggested that Berlin's BESSY I synchrotron, which was being dismantled to make way for a newer machine, should be gifted to Middle Eastern scientists.

The center was formally declared open at Allan, near the Jordan capital of Amman, in April 2004. At meetings there, researchers from Israel regularly work side-by-side with colleagues from Iran, the Palestinian Authority, and elsewhere. In the meantime, however, scientists have realized that an upgraded BESSY would not produce a sufficiently modern machine, so the decision was made to use the BESSY hardware as a booster accelerator and feed electrons from there into a new main ring able to hold beams with an energy of 2.5 gigaelectron-volts.

Although this will provide them with an up-to-the-minute third-generation synchrotron, it will cost more money, hence the current effort to raise funds. SESAME director, Khaled Toukan, said in today's statement: "Construction of SESAME is progressing well and we now want the scientific programme to begin as soon as possible."