SESAME Delivers Its First Light

Scientists at SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) recorded first monochromatic light through the XAFS/XRF (X-ray absorption fine structure/X-ray fluorescence) spectroscopy beamline in November, signaling the start of the laboratory’s experimental program. The beamline, SESAME’s first to come on stream, delivers X-ray light that will be used to carry out research in areas ranging from solid state physics to environmental science and archaeology.

“After years of preparation, it’s great to see light on target,” says beamline scientist Messaoud Harfouche. “We have a fantastic experimental program ahead of us, starting with an experiment to investigate heavy metals contaminating soils in the region.”

The initial research program will be carried out at two beamlines, the XAFS/XRF beamline and the infrared (IR) spectromicroscopy beamline that is scheduled to join the XAFS/XRF beamline this year. Both have specific characteristics that make them appropriate for various areas of research. A third beamline, devoted to materials science, will come on stream in 2018.

“Our first three beamlines already give SESAME a wide range of research options to fulfill the needs of our research community,” says Giorgio Paolucci, SESAME’s scientific director. “The future for light source research in the Middle East and neighboring countries is looking very bright!”

First light is an important step in the commissioning process of a new synchrotron light source, but it is nevertheless just one step on the way to full operation. The SESAME synchrotron is currently operating with a beam current of just over 80 milliamps, while the design value is 400 milliamps. Over the coming weeks and months as experiments get underway, engineers will gradually increase the current.

“SESAME is a major scientific and technological addition to research and education in the Middle East and beyond,” says Khaled Toukan, SESAME’s director. “Jordan supported the project financially and politically since its inception in 2004, for the benefit of science and peace in the region. The young scientists, physicists, engineers and administrators who have built SESAME come for the first time from this part of the world.”

Among the subjects likely to be studied in early experiments are environmental pollution with a view to improving public health, as well as studies aimed at identifying new drugs for cancer therapy and cultural heritage studies ranging from bioarcheology to investigations of ancient manuscripts.

“On behalf of the SESAME Council, I’d like to congratulate the SESAME staff on this wonderful milestone,” says Rolf Heuer, council president. “SESAME is a great addition to the region’s research infrastructure, allowing scientists from the region access to the kind of facility that they previously had to travel to Europe or the US to use.”