Scientific cooperation in the Middle East takes a step forward with the Sesame CentreParis - The SESAME Project (International Centre for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) has just reached two important landmarks: the first cornerstone of the Centre has been laid and seven of its members have accepted the statutes of the project.
The official stone-laying ceremony took place on January 6, 2003 at Al-Balqa University, Jordan, in the presence of King Abdullah of Jordan, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, members of the Jordanian government and international dignitaries including Werner Burkart, Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
UNESCO’s Director-General underlined the significance of the project for the region, from both a scientific point of view and for the promotion of peaceful cooperation. “There are many benefits arising from a Centre such as this,” said Mr Matsuura. “It will help to improve basic research in the region as well as applied research in such fields as medicine, the environment and technology that have an impact on every-day life. It will facilitate the creation of an infrastructure for regional scientific cooperation. Science institutions from different countries will be involved in its work, and this may well give rise to a regional network. The SESAME Centre will be a bridge in the region between the South and the North and it will open new vistas for North-South and South-South cooperation.”
Mr Matsuura added: “The diverse cultures of people working at the Centre will create an enriching environment conducive to open discussion, fresh ideas and inventiveness. Joint work at the Centre will pave the way to solidarity and mutual understanding. These features, along with research at the Centre that addresses common basic needs, are unifying factors and a means of building up a culture of peace through science.”
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 European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) asked UNESCO to be the host organization and broker intergovernmental negotiations.
Created under the auspices of UNESCO, the SESAME Centre is an autonomous institution whose function will be to put into place, develop, maintain and improve sources of synchrotron-light, beam-line radiation, spectrometers and other detectors as well as the auxiliary material and laboratories. It will offer research facilities and training possibilities to scientists in the Middle East and elsewhere. It will not undertake secret activities for military use or any other secret research.
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 discovered in the 1940s, ‘synchrotron-light’ has become the best available source of x-rays, highly valuable for scientists in many fundamental and applied research, in areas such as atomic physics, the structure of large complex molecules in biology, pharmacology and molecular medicine, semi-conductors, the technology and science of materials.
There are around 45 sources of synchrotron radiation in the world today, but the number of sources in developing countries can be counted on one hand. There are none in the Middle East or in the southern Mediterranean basin, which puts scientists in this region at a disadvantage.
The Jordanian government supplied the land on which the Centre will be built and has agreed to finance the costs of construction, estimated at US$6-8 million. The project includes the main machine room and laboratories, a library and a computer room. The plans for the building have been drawn up and invitations to tender have gone out. The contract for construction is due to be signed in February 2003 and the Jordanian Education Minister says the Centre should be operational in 2006.
Mr Matsuura said at the ceremony that the SESAME Centre had officially been launched as seven of its founding members had notified him that they had accepted the statutes of the project. Those members - Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey - now form the new SESAME Council that will supply the annual budget of the Centre. Kuwait is an observer nation and new member states and observers are expected to join soon. Libya has submitted a request to become an observer. Several non-Middle Eastern countries that were observers in the Interim Council - Armenia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and USA - are expected to confirm their status as observers in the new Council.
The SESAME Council replaces the Interim Council which has held nine meetings since its creation in 1999. Herwig Schopper, former Director-General of CERN, has been appointed President of the new Council and will be assisted by two vice-presidents: Khaled Toukan, the Jordanian Education Minister, and Dincer Ulku, Professor at Hacettepe University in Turkey.
A feasibility study of the project established that several hundred scientists working in research activities in the Middle East would benefit significantly from a source of synchrotron radiation. Many other scientists from the Middle East live and work outside the region and use facilities in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
The machine parts of BESSY I have been shipped to Jordan and will soon be improved and modernized. Six workshops on scientific techniques have been organized in the Middle East and almost 30 experts and engineers from the region followed these training programmes, lasting up to two years, in synchrotron radiation centres in Europe and the United States. These activities were jointly funded by the members of the Interim Council, UNESCO, synchrotron radiation laboratories in Europe and the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the US Energy Department and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.