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Middle East light source moves forward

SESAME.jpgDespite upheavals, assassinations, and a global recession, the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME), appears to be making progress in securing much-needed funding.

SESAME is a US$110 million project to build a third-generation synchrotron light source near Amman, Jordan. Synchrotrons are particle accelerators that generate x-ray beams. They’re useful for all sorts of stuff ranging from materials research to archaeology, and the Middle East could certainly use one of its own. Scientific merits aside, the machine has also brought together unlikely collaborators: Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Iran are all working together on the source.

The project has faced some intense challenges lately. In 2010, two members of the Iranian delegation were assassinated. Pakistan has struggled to make its payments because of the global recession. And earlier this year, the popular revolt in Egypt left funding in limbo. For much of this year, the project has been stuck with a US$35 million funding gap that threatened its construction.

Despite all these troubles, SESAME endures. A statement to be released soon by UNESCO (sent to Nature by Chris Llewellyn-Smith, an Oxford physicist and president of the SESAME council) reveals that funding commitments are in place from Israel, Iran, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories, provided that Egypt and Turkey come through with their share in a timely fashion. Additional funding from Turkey still needs formal approval, and Egypt is awaiting the start of a new financial year on 1 July. But all signs are positive. Llewellyn-Smith says he is “confident” the project will be on track to deliver its first three beamlines by 2015.

Image: Maciej Nalecz, UNESCO


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