SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) is a third generation 2.5 GeV synchrotron-light source in Allan (Jordan) and the first major international research centre in the Middle East. it was officially opened on 16 May 2017. SESAME is an intergovernmental organization set up under the auspices of UNESCO and modelled institutionally on CERN. It is now a fully independent intergovernmental organization. UNESCO, which is the depository of the Organization’s Statutes, played a vital role in getting the project started, and has provided unfailing support thereafter.
- Enabling world-class research in the Middle East and neighbouring regions in subjects ranging from biology and medical sciences through materials science, physics and chemistry to health care, the environment and archaeology,
- Building scientific and cultural bridges between participating countries, and fostering mutual understanding and tolerance through international cooperation, and
- Helping to prevent and reverse the brain drain that is holding back science education and research in the region.
The Members of SESAME are currently Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey.
The Observers are Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, as well as CERN and the European Union.
UNESCO helps in integrating SESAME in the community of UNESCO partners in science and promoting its participation in UNESCO’s science programmes in research, training and science education, particularly those in the basic and applied sciences, in fostering awareness and participation of its Member States and partners in the activity of SESAME, and in advising Members States on opportunities for their participation in SESAME and the expected returns this would bring for their national science and technology and science-based development.
In February 2019, SESAME’s solar power plant was inaugurated. Since then, it is the world’s first large accelerator complex to be fully powered by renewable energy thus making it the world’s first carbon neutral accelerator laboratory. It has signed the UN’s Climate Neutral Now pledge.
SESAME beamlines and users
Three of SESAME’s beamlines are now in operation and hosting users. They are the XAFS/XRF (X-ray Absorption Fine Structure/X-ray Fluorescence) spectroscopy, IR (Infrared) spectromicroscopy, and MS (Materials Science) beamlines. Three more beamlines are under construction: one for X-ray tomography and two for soft X-ray spectroscopy. Two of these are expected to come on stream in 2022 and one in 2023. (Click on the image to enlarge.)
The users of SESAME are based in universities and research institutes principally, though not exclusively, in the region, thereby permitting networking with scientists both in and beyond the Middle East and neighbouring countries. They visit the laboratory periodically to carry out experiments, generally in collaboration, where they are exposed to the highest scientific standards in a stimulating environment for international collaboration. They then return home to analyze the data they have obtained.
SESAME’s 48-bedroom Guest House that accommodates users on its premises while conducting experiments serves as an informal meeting point where scientists with diverse cultural, political and religious backgrounds may exchange ideas and experiences and forge lasting links with each other.
Since SESAME opened its doors to users in July 2018, beam time has been granted for 165 proposals. This involves 83 user groups from 18 different countries – this would have been greater had it not been for COVID-19 which prevents travel – and the number of peer-reviewed papers presenting data obtained at SESAME’s beamlines that have been published in scientific journals has now reached 24. The experiments carried out so far (February 2021) ranged from topics such as novel materials for energy applications such as batteries and fuel cells; the biological analysis of algae; synchrotron-based infrared investigation of shock features in Martian and Lunar meteorites; the possible use of herbs for treating Alzheimer’s Disease; the study of arsenic in the rice grains and rice farm soils in Iran; and ancient manuscripts from the Quran.
The number of registered users, which in February 2021 stood at 915, has been fostered, and continues to be fostered, by a series of Users’ Meetings and training opportunities developed and supported by the IAEA, UNESCO, the European Union, various governments and many of the world’s synchrotron laboratories. As more beamlines are built, the number is expected to further rise substantially.
SESAME, a visionary endeavour in science and diplomacy
On 16 May 2017 in Allan, Jordan, the SESAME synchrotron (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) was inaugurated by H.M. King Abdulla II of Jordan in the presence of the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, the President of the SESAME Council, Chris Llewellyn Smith, and many other dignitaries. This opening is the result of many years of intensive negotiation, fund-raising and cooperation hand in hand with UNESCO and other partners.
It is first and foremost a leap forward for research. This third-generation light source, unrivaled in the region, now offers scientists and researchers a scientific centre of excellence. Light sources are effectively giant flash lamps coupled to powerful microscopes. They are used to study the properties of materials, and to advance research in fields as diverse as medicine, biology, chemistry, the environment or archeology. SESAME also aims to provide state-of-the-art technological equipment to researchers in the region, helping stem the brain drain to northern countries.
It is also an outstanding example of scientific diplomacy, as the project brings together representatives of Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestine and Turkey.
UNESCO has stood by the project from the first, and today still continues to foster the development of SESAME and to promote the participation of its Member States and international organizations in the SESAME activity. The story of this bold scientific and diplomatic gamble is outlined below.