In an extraordinary act of regional cooperation, Israel, Iran, Jordan and Turkey are to jointly provide funds for a particle accelerator as part of their commitment to a UNESCO-sponsored scientific project, it was announced on Wednesday.
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Each of the four countries has pledged $5 million toward the SESAME facility, which is being built near Amman. SESAME stands for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East. According to the UNESCO website, the project aims to "foster scientific and technological excellence in the Middle East and neighboring countries (and prevent or reverse brain drain ) by enabling world-class research," and to "build scientific and cultural bridges between neighboring countries."
The project is slated to go online in 2015.
Egypt was originally meant to be one of the sponsors, but the past year's instability there made it difficult to secure its commitment. From Wednesday's announcement, it appears that Iran is taking Egypt's place.
The $20 million isn't enough to cover the accelerator project. Another $15 million is being sought from Europe and the United States. The SESAME center will ultimately cost $100 million.
"This announcement is a breakthrough in terms of the financial infrastructure," said Prof. Eliezer Rabinovici, a physicist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has attended SESAME planning meetings.
"SESAME had enough money to build the building to house the accelerator, and to install its first components, which are being donated by the Germans. Now this commitment will enable the purchase of a light source for the accelerator," he said.
Moshe Vigdor, who heads the Planning and Budgeting Committee of Israel's Council for Higher Education, said that without this agreement the project would have collapsed.
As for Iran's involvement, he said, "Science crosses borders and Israel participates in many international scientific forums that include Iran."
SESAME also includes representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Pakistan, Bahrain and Cyprus.
According to Rabinovici, SESAME's seeds were sown at a meeting that took place in Dahab, Sinai, three weeks after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Scientists from Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Morocco, as well as Palestinian scientists, were at the meeting.
While terror attacks in the late 1990s moved the working meetings to Europe, work on the project continued, getting a major boost with the donation of a German synchrotron, which will serve as the base for the new accelerator.
Unlike accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the synchrotron is not based on particle collisions but on the cyclic beaming of electrons within the accelerator. When the electrons are accelerated they radiate, and this radiation can be used for screening in archaeology, physics, life sciences, pharmacology and other fields.
There are 60 such synchrotrons in the world, but none in the Middle East.