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SESAME - major research facility in the Middle East

28 May 2013
by eub2 -- last modified 28 May 2013

The European Commission and CERN have today agreed to support the construction of SESAME, one of the most ambitious research facilities in the Middle East. SESAME is a so-called synchrotron light source, functioning in effect like a giant microscope. It will allow researchers from the region to investigate the properties of advanced materials, biological processes and cultural artefacts. SESAME is a unique joint venture based in Jordan that brings together scientists from its members Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey. Alongside its scientific aims, the project aims to promote peace in the region through scientific cooperation.


What is SESAME?

The Synchrotron light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) is a joint project launched in 2003 by countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East to build a synchrotron facility in Jordan. The facility is based on expertise and equipment made available by European partner laboratories and was inspired by CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research). The project has been developed under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) but SESAME is an autonomous intergovernmental organisation at the service of its Members, who have full control over its development, exploitation and financial matters. SESAME is under construction in Allan, Jordan, some 35 km northwest of Amman.

Inside SESAME main hall May 2012
Inside SESAME main hall May 2012

What will SESAME do?

SESAME will foster scientific and technological excellence (and help prevent or reverse the risk of "brain drain" in the Middle East) by enabling world-class research in subjects ranging from biology, archaeology and medical sciences through to materials science, physics, chemistry and life sciences. At the same time, it will build scientific and cultural bridges between diverse societies. It will bring together researchers from all its Members: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

What is a synchrotron?

A synchrotron is a stadium-sized machine that produces many beams of bright X-ray light. In a synchrotron, bunches of charged particles – electrons – circulate at nearly the speed of light for several hours inside a long ring-shaped tube under vacuum. As magnets surrounding the tube bend their trajectories, the electrons emit 'synchrotron light', with wavelengths that range from infrared radiation to X-rays. The emitted light is collected by different 'beam-lines' and is guided through a set of lenses and instruments, where the X-rays illuminate and interact with samples of material being studied.

The magnets for the Storage Ring are supplied via the EU-CERN cooperation
The magnets for the Storage Ring are supplied via the EU-CERN cooperation

Advanced sources of light (like lasers and synchrotrons) have become prime factors in promoting scientific and technological progress. In recent decades, the extraordinary power of synchrotron light has made it an essential tool for studying matter on scales ranging from biological cells to atoms, using radiation from the infrared to X-rays. It has had an immense impact in fields that include industry, biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, medicine and physics. For example, exhaust catalysers for cars have been designed with the help of the analytical capabilities of synchrotrons and practically all molecular structure definitions for pharmaceutical compounds are made by synchrotrons.

Synchrotron light sources were initially built exclusively in the developed world. Owing to their wide impact across the scientific spectrum with quite often 'near-market' benefits, many of the rapidly emerging economies, including Brazil, India, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand have built their own sources. There are now more than 60 synchrotron light sources in operation in 19 countries serving some 30,000 scientists but SESAME will be the first in the Middle East. Even taking into account the new sources under development, the rapid growth of the user community and ever-increasing range of applications will outpace the available supply of synchrotron light for the foreseeable future.

Why is the EU funding SESAME?

SESAME has great potential to contribute to peace and scientific excellence in the Near East, and to further develop relations between Europe and its neighbourhood. Since its inception, the project has received strong backing from scientists and governments throughout Europe. Three of the eight countries of the SESAME consortium are EU Member States or states associated to the EU's research framework programme (Cyprus, Turkey and Israel). Several additional EU Member States participate in the SESAME council meeting as observers. Over 40 Nobel prize winners have backed the project in an open letter and synchrotron facilities from Germany, France, UK, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland have contributed manpower and resources to the project. EU support at this point in time not only provides additional funds for this project, it also sends a strong message of political endorsement to assure contributions from local partners.

Some $36 million of capital investment is needed to provide the main 2.5 GeV ring and supporting infrastructure, and bring SESAME into operation with four day-one beam-lines. In March 2012, Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey each agreed to make voluntary contributions of $5 million to capital funding. The European Union's contribution of €5 million for the construction of the magnets of the main storage ring closes most of the funding gap. If the full $36 million needed from now to the end of 2015 is not available, certain items could be postponed in the interest of bringing SESAME into operation and starting the experimental program at the earliest possible date.

What is the EU funding?

Through the CESSAMAG project, whose contract signature with CERN is announced today, the European Union is granting SESAME an additional €5 million in support. CESSAMAG will supply SESAME with the magnetic system allowing for the completion of the main ring of the synchrotron facility, paving the way for SESAME to become operational from 2015. CERN is the main contractor in CESSAMAG and coordinates the delivery of the magnet system. The European Commission has already supported SESAME over the years with more than €3 million through bilateral EU-Jordan financial assistance programmes and through research projects aimed at preparing the ground for the project.

Drawing of one of the magnets that will be built by CERN with the support of SESAME and EU funding
Drawing of one of the magnets that will be built by CERN with the support of SESAME and EU funding

How will SESAME be used?

SESAME will be a widely-available 'scientific user facility'. Researchers, including graduate students, from universities and research institutes will typically visit SESAME for a week or two, twice or three times a year, to carry out experiments, frequently in collaboration with scientists from other centres/countries, and then return home to analyse the data they have obtained.

Several hundred scientists are expected to use SESAME from "Day One". This will make SESAME a unique multidisciplinary centre in the region. As more beam-lines are built, the number of users is expected to grow to 1000 or more.

For scientists from Members of SESAME working in relevant areas of research and training, access to the SESAME science facilities, including existing beam-lines and instruments, will be free of charge. For scientists from non-Members (including Observers), access to the SESAME science facilities will be subject to payment (whether financial, in-kind or manpower) to cover the needs of their experiments, and provide an indirect contribution to the Centre's general operating costs.

What are examples of similar projects in Europe?

There are 10 synchrotrons in Europe providing beamlines for physicists, chemists, materials scientists and biologists. Medical doctors, meteorologists, geophysicists and archaeologists are also regular users, as are companies, notably in the fields of pharmaceuticals, consumer products, petrochemicals and microelectronics..

The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) is the most powerful synchrotron radiation source in Europe, attracting several thousand researchers each year. It is located in Grenoble, France, and supported and shared by 19 countries.

DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) is one of the world's leading accelerator centres. The accelerators and detectors that DESY develops and builds are unique research tools. The facilities generate the world's most intense X-ray light, accelerate particles to record energies and open completely new windows onto the universe.

Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. Diamond generates brilliant beams of light from infra-red to X-rays which are used for academic and industry research and development across a range of scientific disciplines including structural biology, physics, chemistry, materials science, engineering, earth and environmental sciences.

ELETTRA is a multidisciplinary Synchrotron Light Laboratory in Trieste, Italy, open to researchers in diverse basic and applied fields. The main assets of the research centre are two advanced light sources, the electron storage ring Elettra and the free-electron laser FERMI, continuously operated supplying light of the selected "colour" and quality to more than 30 experimental stations on 27 beam-lines.

ALBA is a third generation Synchrotron Light Facility. It is located in Cerdanyola del Vallès near Barcelona, Spain. The storage ring commissioning and the installation of the first seven beam-lines have been completed in 2012.

What is the history of the SESAME project?

Eminent scientists, including the Pakistani Nobel laureate Abdus Salam, understood the need for an international synchrotron-light source in the Middle East as long as thirty years ago. It was also understood by the CERN-based MESC (Middle East Scientific Cooperation), headed by Sergio Fubini. Their efforts to promote regional cooperation in science, and also solidarity and peace, started in 1995 with the organisation of a meeting in Egypt at which Venice Gouda, the Egyptian Minister of Higher Education, and Eliezer Rabinovici, of MESC and Hebrew University in Israel, took an official stand in support of Arab-Israeli cooperation.

In 1997, Herman Winick of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University in the United States and Gustav-Adolf Voss of the Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron in Germany suggested building a light source in the Middle East using components of the soon to be decommissioned Berlin Synchrotron, BESSY I. The MESC pursued this proposal, and, in 1999, persuaded Federico Mayor, then director-general of UNESCO, to convene a meeting of delegates from the Middle East and neighboring regions. Together, they launched SESAME and set up an International Interim Council under the presidency of Herwig Schopper (a former director general of CERN).

In May 2002, the UNESCO Executive Board unanimously approved the establishment of SESAME under the auspices but completely independent of UNESCO, which is the depository of SESAME's statutes (as it is for CERN, which was also established under the auspices of UNESCO). Building work started in 2003.

The German government donated the components of BESSY 1 to SESAME. UNESCO funded the dismantling costs with additional contributions from Members, the U.S. Department of State, and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy.

The SESAME building was opened in November 2008 in a ceremony under the auspices of His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, and with the participation of His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan and Koïchiro Matsuura, then director-general of UNESCO.


Source: European Commission