Scientists turn away from ideology with Sesame synchrotron

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Amid rising tensions in one of the world’s most volatile regions, an audacious project to use science for diplomacy is taking shape in the heart of the Middle East.

In this land of ancient hatreds, a highly sophisticated scientific installation is being built in Jordan. It has support from countries that are usually openly hostile to each other.

The plan is for a multi-million-pound synchrotron particle accelerator, known as Sesame.

It has backing from several Arab nations, together with Turkey, Pakistan, Cyprus, Iran and – astonishingly – Israel as well.

The Iranian government is publicly committed to Israel’s destruction and Israel has threatened to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. And most recently Israel accused Iran of supplying Palestinian militants with the missiles launched at Israeli cities.

Yet the governments of both these countries and others have pledged to provide more funding to Sesame, and BBC News witnessed their scientists and officials meeting for lengthy discussions in Jordan earlier this month.

After years of doubts about the project’s feasibility, construction is now at an advanced stage and most of the next round of finance is secured. The first science could start as early as 2015…

Synchrotrons have become an indispensable tool for modern science with some 60 in use around the world, almost all of them in developed countries, and this will be the first in the Middle East…

The governing council of Sesame is headed by a British physicist, Prof Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, a former director of Cern, which operates the Large Hadron Collider from Geneva in Switzerland.

During a visit to the facility, in the hills 20 miles northwest of Amman, he told BBC News: “It is pretty remarkable but it’s happened and it’s because the scientific communities in these countries have pushed for this and ignored the political barriers.

Science is a common language – if we can speak it together, possibly we can build bridges of trust which will help in other areas.”


RTFA for lots more detail – and hope.

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