Monday, February 06, 2017

A Middle East Particle Accelerator Success Story Amidst the Doom and Gloom

by Salman Hameed

In a topsy-turvy world, an unlikely scientific collaboration in the Middle East provides a ray beam of hope. This is the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science in the Middle East or SESAME saw the first beam circulate around it just this past January. This accelerator, located in Jordan, was first proposed by Prof. Abdus Salam and established under the auspices of UNESCO. The most amazing part of SESAME is not the instrument itself, but the collaboration behind it: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey. This is the Who's Who of who doesn't like each other. And yet, scientists and engineers from these countries have managed to work together to get this project to completion. As the Economist puts it:
 Proposals to build this device, the world’s most politically fraught particle accelerator, date back nearly 20 years. The delay is understandable. Israel, Iran and the Palestinian Authority, three of the project’s nine members, are better known for conflict than collaboration. Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, but both have worked together on the accelerator. As well as Jordan, the other members are Bahrain, Egypt and Pakistan. Nonetheless, Sesame, a type of machine called an electron synchrotron, is about to open for business.
And on January 17th, it had its first beam:
“This is a great day for SESAME,” said Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn-Smith, President of the SESAME Council. “It’s a tribute to the skill and devotion of the scientists and decision-makers from the region who have worked tirelessly to make scientific collaboration between countries in the Middle East and neighbouring regions a reality.”
The first circulating beam is an important step on the way to first light, which marks the start of the research programme at any new synchrotron light-source facility, but there is much to be done before experiments can get underway. Beams have to be accelerated to SESAME’s operating energy of 2.5 GeV. Then the light emitted as the beams circulate has to be channelled along SESAME’s two day-one beam lines and optimised for the experiments that will take place there. This process is likely to take around six months, leading to first experiments in the summer of 2017. 
Yes, yes. Things can change for the better. This is another version of Scientists' March for a Better Future.

You can learn more about the project from the SESAME website.

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