Sesame accelerator opens doors to scientific co-operation


A science project aiming to advance research in fields as varied as biology, archaeology and medical sciences is bringing together researchers from Israel and its neighbours around the Middle East.

The Sesame synchrotron particle accelerator, which was the subject of a BBC radio programme this week, is being built outside of Amman in Jordan, but has financial backing and support from academics and politicians in countries including Egypt, Bahrain, Pakistan and Iran.

As well as bringing together Israel with countries that do not recognise it, the project is also uniting scientists from Turkey and Cyprus, which likewise do not have diplomatic relations.

The accelerator, which has been in the works for two decades and was formally established by Unesco in 2002, is expected to be up and running within three years. It is the first synchrotron to be built in the region, although there are 60 of the devices in the world

Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, the professor in charge of Sesame’s governing body, told the BBC that he viewed science as a common language. “If we can speak it together, possibly we can build bridges of trust which will help in other areas,” he said.

The project, which still needs around $10 million in funding, came about after Stanford University physicist Herman Winick suggested donating an out-of-use synchrotron to researchers in the Middle East. Professor Winick said that the Sesame name, which stands for Synchrotron light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, also referred to the Middle Eastern spice, a door opening — as in the tale of Ali Baba – and to the series Sesame Street. “Because that is where young people are taught to co-operate and respect each other,” he said.

According to the Sesame team, the project aims to “build scientific and cultural bridges between diverse societies, and contribute to a culture of peace through international cooperation in science”.

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