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Middle East light lab nears switch on date

Wednesday, 10 August 2016 11:10 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Speed read

  • SESAME uses radiation beams to study atoms, cells and materials

  • Beams of X-rays and infrared light to be operational soon

  • Scientists to be asked this month to submit research proposals

[MANCHESTER] SESAME, an intergovernmental research lab in Jordan that will use light and X-rays to investigate atoms, cells and materials, will soon start operations aimed at bolstering the region’s scientific capacity. 

The first two ‘beam sources’, which will emit infrared light and X-rays, will be in operation shortly, SESAME staff announced in Manchester, United Kingdom, on 27 July at the EuroScience Open Forum. Along with the beams, SESAME, the first synchrotron light source in the Middle East, will also announce its first call for proposals, the event heard. 

The near completion of SESAME (the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) marks a historic feat of science diplomacy, bringing together scientists from its members: Bahrain, Cyprus, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey. 

“It’s the only body outside of the UN that represented both Israel and Iran in the same room,” said Chris Llewellyn Smith, the president of the SESAME council, which governs the project. 

SESAME is due to be fully operational by December, the council said. 

The facility can be used by researchers in a wide variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, geology, physics, medicine, material science and archaeology. There are now more than 60 synchrotron light sources in the world. 

Despite ongoing construction, SESAME is already producing science, said representatives at the Manchester meeting. For example, there are several multilateral research projects underway, ranging from studying pollution in Jordan to finding a cure for breast cancer. 

The representatives said the project will open formally this month to proposals from researchers around the world. But the laboratory also has targets to conduct locally relevant research. 

The majority of these targets focus on regional health concerns, including the study of certain pathogens that are common among SESAME member states. This includes the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), as well as several non-transferable diseases that disproportionately affect the region, such as cancer and diabetes. 

Sumaya bint Hassan, a princess of Jordan, who is an advocator of the project, said the project was both a scientific and political enterprise. “SESAME has been built by scientists from around the Middle East,” she said. “It’s not a hollow gesture or half-hearted project. It’s an experimental centre in more ways than one. It facilitates the conversation [about collaboration] that our region rarely hears but sorely needs to have.” 

The audience heard that both the long-term scientific and political success of the project is dependent on producing world-class research. Llewellyn Smith highlighted the fact that “the driver for peace is the science itself”. He argued that the project’s long-term peacebuilding aspirations rely on producing world-class research, as this is the only way to ensure that researchers use the facility.