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The tides of Venus

Could a synchrotron help bring peace to the Middle East?

The beautiful SESAME building in Jordan.

It has been a terrible couple of weeks with renewed conflict between Palestinian and Israeli factions. A fragile cease fire is holding (so far), but has come too late for those who lost their lives in the latest bout of fighting.

In the midst of the fighting, Israeli and Palestinian scientists and policymakers are collaborating, through the building of the first synchrotron in the Middle East. Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, or SESAME for short, is fast becoming a beacon of co-operation with a number of partners who have the most fractious of political relations.

The first video in this super in-depth article on the BBC, captures some of the views of the scientists who are working on this incredible project.

This video really captures why I love working in science, and more specifically working within a synchrotron. Even in Australia, it is hard to finance these machines as one nation (in fact it’s often over looked that the Australian Synchrotron is funded by both Australian and New Zealand), and they really are a hot-bed of international co-operation and collaboration.

This construction of SESAME has had to be resourceful as they are working with a very tight budget. There’s a good precedent for this – the first x-ray synchrotrons were converted from pre-runners of the Large Hadrons collider.

These first generation machines would have first been used by particle physicists to smash particles, but became too small as the energies of particle physics increased. That’s when the next group of scientists move in, converting a particle smasher into a source of high-intensity radiation that could be used by a massive range of sciences.

SESAME is part of the new generation of synchrotron recycling and is being constructed from the now-closed Berlin Electron Storage Ring Society for Synchrotron Radiation(BESSY) ring. Having been de-commissioned in Germany a few years ago, it is now being transported piece by piece to Jordan. There it’s now being reconstructed to become SESAME, along with magnets recycled from the first similar synchrotron (originally named Synchrotron Radiation Source or SRS) which closed in the UK in 2008.

The SESAME project has already weathered rocky times, after deciding to upgrade the instrument left a $35 million hole in their funding. But with recent contributions from new partners, such as $5 million in kind from Pakistan, this has improved. Even through the recent conflict, goodwill for the project has increased and hopefully the last $10 million to improve the experimental beamlines will be found soon.

SESAME is housed in a beautiful (and confusingly square for a round machine) building, shown in the image at the top. It’s within these walls that Palestinian, Israeli, Cypriot and Turkish (to name a few of the countries involved) scientists have been working to a common goal. It is hoped that the incredible sense of peaceful ambition this project inspires will extend into the communities at large.

Once operational – which is currently planned for 2015 – SESAME will allow scientists to tackle some of the challenges faces humanity. Who knows, they might even help foster peace between nations.

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