SESAME, a visionary endeavour in science and diplomacy

On 16 May in Allan, Jordan, the SESAME synchrotron (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) will be inaugurated by H.M. King Abdulla II of Jordan in the presence of the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, the President of the SESAME Council, Chris Llewellyn Smith, and many other dignitaries. This opening is the result of many years of intensive negotiation, fund-raising and cooperation hand in hand with UNESCO and other partners.

It is first and foremost a leap forward for research. This third-generation light source, unrivaled in the region, now offers scientists and researchers a scientific centre of excellence. Light sources are effectively giant flash lamps coupled to powerful microscopes. They are used to study the properties of materials, and to advance research in fields as diverse as medicine, biology, chemistry, the environment or archeology. SESAME also aims to provide state-of-the-art technological equipment to researchers in the region, helping stem the brain drain to northern countries.

It is also an outstanding example of scientific diplomacy, as the project brings together representatives of Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

UNESCO has stood by the project from the first, and today still continues to foster the development of SESAME and to promote the participation of its Member States and international organizations in the SESAME activity. The story of this bold scientific and diplomatic gamble is outlined below.