2004: Foundation of a Synchrotron Light Source in the Middle East

15 April, 2004

Birth of the idea of a synchrotron light source in the Middle East

The need for an international synchrotron light source in the Middle East was recognized by eminent scientists such as the Pakistani Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam in the early 1980s and the CERN and Middle East based MESC (Middle East Scientific Cooperation) group headed by Sergio Fubini, a theoretician at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). MESC's efforts to promote regional cooperation in science, and also solidarity and peace, started in November 1995 with the organization in Dahab (Egypt) of a meeting at which Venice Gouda, Minister of Higher Education of Egypt, and Eliezer Rabinovici (MESC and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel) took an official stand in support of Arab-Israeli cooperation.

The idea of basing an international synchrotron light source in the Middle East on the components of the BESSY I (Berlin Electron Storage Ring Company for Synchrotron Radiation) machine was suggested by Gustaf-Adolf Voss of DESY (Deutsches Elktronen Synchrotron, Hamburg, Germany) and Herman Winick of SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford University, USA), during a BESSY meeting in Berlin at which the decommissioning of the BESSY I facility in West Berlin was announced (following the re-unification of Germany it was decided to build a larger machine in East Berlin). Voss and Winick felt that the components of BESSY I could be used for another machine elsewhere.

This brilliant proposal fell on fertile ground when, during his participation in a second MESC seminar, this time in Turin (Italy) in 1997, to which 31 scientists from Israel and the Arab States were invited, Voss introduced in a panel debate the possibility Winick and he had put forward of moving BESSY I to the Middle East. The Chair of the Organizing Committee of the seminar was Tord Ekelof (MESC and Uppsala University, Sweden).

MESC pursued this idea at a meeting of its Steering Group organized at Uppsala University on 23 April 1998, at which delegations from Israel and a number of Arab States participated. At this meeting, a more detailed plan for the use of BESSY I in the Middle East was presented and discussed with the delegations. Following the discussions, MESC decided to adopt the project and seek support on the international level for its realization.

This work was guided by a Planning Committee, which at the request of Fubini, was chaired by Herwig Schopper (former Director-General of CERN).

Launching of the project

Schopper brought the plan to the attention of Federico Mayor, then Director-General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), since he thought that the only chance of realizing such an international project would be to follow the example of CERN which had been founded under the umbrella of UNESCO. Mayor called a meeting at the Organization's Headquarters in Paris in June 1999 of delegates from the Middle East and neighbouring regions. The outcome of the meeting was the launching of the project and the setting-up of an international Interim Council, under the presidency of Herwig Schopper, to take the necessary measures to prepare the establishment and operation of an international centre.

On the proposal of Said Assaf (Palestinian Authority), the acronym "SESAME" was selected for the project and the full name of the Centre (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East), which is a precise description of the facility, was designed to fit this acronym.

At a meeting in Geneva (Switzerland) on 10-11 April 2000, Jordan was selected as the seat of the Centre in a competition with five other countries from the region.

At its 164th session in May 2002, the Executive Board of UNESCO approved the establishment of SESAME under the auspices of the Organization following which the Director-General of UNESCO invited the Organization's Member States to become Members or Observers of SESAME.

Donation of BESSY I components

At the request of Fubini and Schopper, and following an independent letter written by Voss, the German Government agreed to donate the BESSY I components to SESAME, provided the dismantling was taken care of by the latter.

In January 2000, Koïchiro Matsuura, who by then had assumed the position of Director-General of UNESCO, informed the Federal Minister of Education and Research of Germany that he was ready to take the necessary steps for the setting up of SESAME as a centre under the auspices of UNESCO, and that financing of the dismantling of BESSY I would be covered from international sources. These assurances led the German Authorities to giving their formal agreement to donating the BESSY I machine to SESAME, and the components of the machine were subsequently dismantled and documented in a controlled way with the technical support of teams from Armenia and Russia, and with sizeable funds provided by UNESCO thanks to Matsuura, as well as funds from Members of the SESAME international Interim Council, and the US Department of State. Following an exchange of letters between the Minister of Education of Jordan and the Federal Minister of Education and Research of Germany in early 2002 in which the Ministry of Education of Jordan pledged to assume responsibility, in a fiduciary capacity, for the proper transport, storage and further use of the storage ring, the BESSY I components were shipped from Berlin via Hamburg (Germany) on 7 June 2002 and delivered to the Zarqa Free Zone in Jordan to be kept in storage until completion of the SESAME building.

SESAME becomes a reality

SESAME formally came into existence on 15 April 2004 after UNESCO, which is the depository of the Statutes of SESAME, had received the required instrument of acceptance of the draft statutes from six potential initial Members. It received this from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, and Turkey, to be followed very shortly after by the Palestinian Authority.

The international Interim Council was then replaced by the permanent Council, the Statutes of the Centre were ratified, the rules of procedure of the SESAME Council were approved, and the President (Herwig Schopper) and two Vice-Presidents (Khaled Toukan from Jordan and Dincer Ülkü from Turkey) of Council were elected. A Seat Agreement was signed with the Government of Jordan, the host country of SESAME.