Science knows no borders in the Middle East: Bob McDonald – Technology & Science

The first synchrotron light source in the Middle East officially opened in Jordan, bringing together countries that have traditionally been in conflict for the sake of fundamental science.

The project is called SESAME, which stands for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East. A light synchrotron is a kind of particle accelerator — a large ring of powerful magnets that boosts electrons to tremendous speeds, which then produces extremely powerful beams of light. These devices can act as a gigantic microscope. The beams can be used to illuminate materials ranging from contaminants in river water samples to the molecular structure of drugs to fine details in ancient manuscripts.

Canada’s synchrotron, the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon. (Canadian Light Source Inc, cc-by-sa-2.0)

There are more than 50 light synchrotrons around the world, including the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon, but this is the first in the Middle East, and the first true international centre for excellence in the region. An unlikely alliance between Jordan, Israel, Iran, Cypress, Egypt, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey came together on the project. This is particularly remarkable considering many of these countries, including Israel and Iran, and Cypress and Turkey, do not have diplomatic relations with each other.

The project was proposed 20 years ago and has suffered delays and funding problems because of those political differences, but in the end, the values of science prevailed. The name, SESAME, is in reference to the magic phrase “Open Sesame,” from the story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, and is meant to symbolize the open nature of the project. The founders also hope to encourage young scientists in the Middle East to stay in the region, and reduce the brain drain of talent to Europe and the United States.

So far, $90 million has been invested in SESAME from both the member countries and organizations such as…

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