Researchers to Open SESAME in 2017

Scientists and engineers at the first synchrotron radiation source in the Middle East have begun commissioning the machine, a significant milestone before officially starting operations in 2017. When fully operational, the SESAME facility in Allan, Jordan, will mark a major victory for science in the region.

SESAME, which stands for the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, is a 133-meter circumference storage ring built to produce intense radiation—ranging from infrared to X-rays—given off by electrons circling inside it at high energies. At the heart of SESAME are injector components from BESSY I, a Berlin-based synchrotron that was decommissioned in 1999, donated to SESAME and upgraded to support an entirely new 2.5-GeV storage ring. With funding provided in part by the European Commission and construction led by CERN in collaboration with SESAME, the new ring is on par with most modern synchrotrons.

Like CERN, SESAME was established under the auspices of UNESCO, but it is now an independent intergovernmental organization that aims to supersede political divisions through scientific collaboration. Countries and labs the world over have responded to that vision by contributing to SESAME’s design, instrumentation and construction.

Researchers expect the period of testing and quality control to take several months. After technicians install and test the individual components, they will guide the beam through the whole machine at low energy to allow scientists to perfect its alignment, then to make measurements and corrections if its performance deviates too far from predicted values. The machine then must pass the same inspections at its maximum energy before the synchrotron officially opens.

Twelve straight sections of the machine have the capacity for installing a series of small dipole magnets that tune the spectrum of the emitted synchrotron light. This makes SESAME a “third generation” light source. SESAME’s materials science beamline, which will come into operation in 2017 or 2018 will be the first to be supplied with light from such a device.

Now that the machine is mostly complete, technicians can perform quality testing before researchers gain access and determine whether the light source can accomplish its scientific mission. “The first scientific mission of SESAME is to promote excellence in science in the Middle East,” says Zehra Sayers, chair of SESAME’s scientific committee and a faculty member at Sabanci University in Istanbul.

Over the past decade, SESAME has organized regular users meetings each year to discuss and develop proposed research plans. The community now includes over 200 active members. The international facility hosts members from Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

“It is very important for us to be able to perform high-quality science at SESAME,” says Sayers. “Because that is what will make it viable: only then people will want to come here to do experiments, and only then people will think that this is really where they can find answers to their questions.”

Dozens of synchrotrons in other locations throughout the world have already proven themselves as research hubs. Synchrotrons create ultra-bright light radiation and channel it into instruments used for advanced imaging research, with applications ranging from materials science to drug discovery.

No synchrotrons existed in the Middle East until now, and political turbulence can make access to other facilities abroad challenging. Sayers says she is confident that SESAME will fill the need for a local laboratory.

The new facility creates an opportunity for regional scientists to collaborate, for example, to study shared cultural heritage. The SESAME light source will be used to identify materials in ancient cultural artifacts—such as textiles and dyes or parchments and inks—and could reveal new information about how the materials were originally prepared.

Scientists will initially have access to two beamlines of different wavelengths when operations begin. The facility has the capacity for 25 beamlines, and engineers expect that two more will become available within a year. Researchers say that the number of applications will grow to encompass diverse fields such as archeology, molecular biology, materials science and environmental science as engineers add beamlines.

“We owe it to the region to make SESAME a success,” Sayers says. “It will be a ray of hope in a time of turmoil.”