Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 26  |  Friday, April 11, 2003  |  Number 6
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page


Middle East hopes for world-class synchrotron research center

by Kurt Riesselmann

Rendering of the SESAME complex located on the Allaan site of the Al-Balqa Applied University

Following the collaborative model that led to the creation of the European research center CERN, the Middle East is in the process of creating a research center of its own. Eight nations so far have signed the statutes for the governance of a new laboratory called the International Center for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science Applications in the Middle East (SESAME).

Under the auspices of the United Nations Educational,Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),the member nations —Bahrain,Egypt,Iran,Israel, Jordan,Palestine,Pakistan and Turkey —have agreed to fund the annual operation budget and share other responsibilities.Other nations are expected to join the project either as full members or as observers.

On January 6,2003,a groundbreaking ceremony in Allaan,20 miles northwest of Amman,Jordan,marked the official start of construction for the complex that will host the new state-of-the-art synchrotron-light facility. It will provide scientists with intense beams of x-rays to conduct research in physics,life sciences,material sciences,archaeology and other areas. According to UNESCO Director General Koïchiro Matsuura,one of the goals of the SESAME project is to “work against the brain-drain by attracting scientists based in the Middle East and also those originally from the region who now work abroad.”To foster these goals,UNESCO has supported the project by providing the forum and framework for consultations between the countries interested in collaborating in the project.After nine meetings of the International Interim Council of SESAME,the member nations formed a permanent Council in January,with former CERN Director General Herwig Schopper as its first president.

At a groundbreaking ceremony on January 8, 2003, King Abdullah II Ben Al-Hussein of Jordan and Director General Koichiro Matsuura, Unesco, unveiled a commemorative plaque at the site of the future building that is to hold the SESAME Center.

But the onset of the war in Iraq has cast a shadow on the future of the project,which has been under development for about five years. “This war could break everything apart,”said Dieter Einfeld,technical director of the SESAME project.“Because of the current situation,Jordan now pays its financial contributions into a security fund.It will be bad if the economic situation in Jordan doesn ’t improve soon.”

In 2000,Jordan won the right to host the center in a competition that featured 18 sites submitted by seven countries in the Middle East.Jordan agreed to pay about five million dollars over five years for the construction of the complex.But with Jordan ’s economy closely tied to oil imports from Iraq, the country ’s economic future is uncertain.

The operation budget,estimated to reach US$5 million five years from now, will be paid by all member nations.For the current year,each member nation has agreed to pay at least $50,000.

Large parts of the scientific equipment for SESAME already sit in a warehouse outside Amman.In 1999,the German government decommissioned its BESSY I synchrotron-light source in Berlin and agreed to donate its components,estimated to be worth up to US$30 million,to the SESAME project. Over the next couple of years scientists hope to raise about $10 to $15 million to upgrade the 25-year-old machine to make SESAME one of the best synchrotron-light sources in the world. For building the x-ray beam lines,the SESAME project counts on financial support from member and observer nations as well as donations of equipment from existing synchrotron labs.

At present,there are about 50 synchrotron-light sources in 20 countries around the world,none in the Middle East.The machines create x-rays by circulating charged particles,usually electrons, inside a ring of magnets at an energy of a few GeV.BESSY I operated at 0.8 GeV,while the conceptual design report for SESAME will call for electron beam of 2.5 GeV.

“BESSY I created light of up to 2 keV,”said SESAME advisory board member Herman Winick of Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory. He and Gustav Voss of Deutsches Elektronen- Synchrotron ,initiated the SESAME project by suggesting that the old machine should be saved, instead of being cut up and shipped to a junkyard. “Today,the scientific community is interested in shorter-wavelength,higher-energy x-rays,”Winick said.“Our original plan was to use high-field superconducting wigglers to extend the spectral range of the machine and to create light of up to 20 keV.The latest plan is to go to even higher energies,increasing the circumference of the machine from 62 meters to 120 meters.”

King Abdullah II presents an award to SESAME Council President Herwig Schopper.

In the last two years about 30 scientists and engineers from the Middle East have worked as trainees at synchrotron laboratories in the U.S.and Europe,funded by the U.S.State Department,the U.S.Department of Energy and several non-U.S. sources.In the fall of this year these trainees, many of them coming from Iran,will move to Jordan to form the core team for the assembly of the upgraded electron accelerator.In November, they will begin to work on upgrading BESSY I ’s first-stage accelerator,a microtron about two meters in diameter.

Although the first of six SESAME x-ray beam lines isn ’t expected to be ready until 2008,the SESAME Council is already soliciting requests for beam time from scientists in the Middle East.Einfeld said the facility would be “booked for years before we are even ready to deliver the first beam.”

But hopes for the future are inextricably linked to the region ’s history of turmoil,as Matsuura stated prophetically in June 2000.

“For the young scientists and Ph.D.students who will use SESAME,the Middle East has always been synonymous with conflict and war,”Matsuura said when Jordan was announced as the host country.“Through their scientific rapprochement, they will be in the vanguard of the political rapprochement that this region so badly needs.”

SESAME Homepage http://www.sesame.org.jo/
Synchrotrons worldwide http://www-ssrl.slac.stanford.edu/sr_sources.html/
Al-Balqa Applied University,Jordan http://www.bau.edu.jo/

last modified 4/11/2003   email Fermilab