United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Paris - UNESCO has given the green light to a science initiative that could help promote peaceful co-operation in the Middle East, by constructing an international synchrotron radiation centre in Jordan.

The project was born in 1997, when Germany decided to decommission its US$60 million BESSY I synchrotron to make way for a newer facility, BESSY II. When Germany offered BESSY I to the Middle Eastern scientific community free of charge, a group of scientists based at the CERN particle physics centre in Geneva (Switzerland) approached UNESCO to act as umbrella organization, brokering the sensitive negotiations between governments.

There are about 45 synchrotron light sources in use in the world today,but only a few are in developing countries. And none are in the Middle East or southern Mediterranean basin, putting scientists of the region at a severe disadvantage. In 2000, the government of Jordan offered to act as host for the new centre, providinga 6,200 m2 site near the Al-Baqa' Applied University in Allan, 30 km from Amman.

The machines operate by accelerating particles, usually electrons, in a circle at tremendous speed, a process that liberates brilliant packets of light called photons. The resulting "synchrotron light" covers a broad range of the electromagnetic spectrum (from infrared to hard x-rays). And, since it was first developed in the 1940's, it has become the best available source of x-rays, highly valuable for scientists in manyfields, including modern biology, where it is used to reveal the structure of proteins and other macromolecules.

UNESCO's Director-General, Ko´chiro Matsuura, emphasised the significance of the project for the region, both scientifically and in promoting peaceful co-operation. "In the belief that such projects can go a long way to enhancing scientific, technical and human capacities in the Middle East," he said, "and to ensuring that more people can participate in the emerging knowledge societies, I have worked very hard to move this project forward. Such projects should be seen as important tools for communication, mutual enrichment and bridge-building between Israeli and Palestinian intellectual and academic communities."

A feasibility study for the project found that several hundred scientists in the Middle East are engaged in research activities that would benefit from a synchrotron radiation source. Many others live outside the region, using facilities in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. "A synchrotron light source in the Middle East," says Mr Matsuura, "would allow them to perform research at an international level of excellence close to their home country." This could help reduce brain drain.

To see the project through its earlystages SESAME set up an Interim Council now consisting of 13 members (Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates), with another eleven as observers (Armenia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Russian Federation, Sudan, Sweden, United Kingdom and USA.) Now the project has been given an official go-ahead, UNESCO's Director-General, Ko´chiru Matsuura, has invited governments to make a formal commitment as members or observers.

Interim Members each pledged US$50,000 per year for three years, from January 2001, to cover preparatory activities and the shipping costs of BESSY I to Jordan. The US State Department and Department of Energy gave US$200,000. Offers in kind have also been made. A further US$6 to $8 million will be needed to upgrade the BESSY I machine, reinstall it in Jordan and set up the first beam-lines. These are attachments that siphon light from the source to study thematerial under investigation. SESAME members will cover running costs, at present about US$500,000, but due to rise to US$3 million plus staff costs when the machine is fully operational in a few years', depending on the number of beams members want.

In September 2001 the Council appointed Professor Dieter Einfeld as Technical Director for the project. He suggested that SESAME could save development costs by using the same design as the ANKA facility at Karlsruhe in Germany that he helped to build. The government of Jordan has agreed to put up the US$12 million for the new building, including the user laboratories, meeting rooms and machine shops. A call for tenders should go out in July 2002.

Now, in response to a request from SESAME's steering committee for six million euros to get the Centre up and running, the European Commission has set up its own feasibility study, to be published this summer. Their main concern is that ministerial guarantees can be found to fund operation of the facility in the long term.

Meanwhile, the SESAME project has already served as a catalyst for South-North co-operation in the field of synchrotron radiation. Eight synchrotron facilities in Europe have provided training to over 30 scientists and engineers from theMiddle East who will be involved in building and operating the SESAME machine. Under a USA Cooperative Research Program, funded largely by the Department of Energy, another eight scientists from Middle East countries received training at US synchrotron radiation laboratories.

As they approved the proposal, several Member States at UNESCO's recent Executive Board meeting (May 15-30) lauded the initiative. The Chairman of the Programme and External Relations Commission, Kenneth Wiltshire, described it as a "quintessential UNESCO project," combining science and education in the fields of international cooperation for development and peace.

For more information contact Peter Coles,
UNESCO Bureau of Public Information,
Editorial Section,
tel. (+33) (0) 1 45 68 17 40,
Email: p.coles@unesco.org

Source Feature No.2002-09
Website 1 (URL) Website
Publication Date 31 May 2002
ę UNESCO 1995-2007 - ID: 4806