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Sesame rises from Arab spring with €15m investment

The Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East project has put to rest uncertainties surrounding its future by securing investments totalling $20 million (€15m).

At a meeting in Amman, Jordan, on 8 March, representatives of Iran, Israel, Jordan and Turkey each agreed to contribute $5m towards constructing the light source between 2012 and 2015.

Progress on Sesame, a project intended to foster collaboration across Middle East, stalled last year as political unrest spread among its members and ministerial responsibility for science changed hands. The long time it took to gain parliamentary approval for the funding in Turkey added to delays.

But progress towards building four beamlines at the facility’s site in Allan, Jordan, is now underway, say organisers.

“The agreement on voluntary contributions will allow us to move ahead rapidly with the construction of Sesame and prepare for the first experiments in 2015-16,” said director Khaled Toukan, in a statement.

However, Sesame must still find an additional $15m in capital funding to complete construction. The project will now look to remaining members— Egypt, Bahrain, Cyprus, Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority—as well as charitable foundations and observer countries such as the United States and EU for funding.

Egypt had planned to contribute but has been so far unable to “due to changes in the government”, said Sesame in a statement. Meanwhile, although the United States has recognised the project as “an initiative that supports the diplomatic interests” of the country, it is yet to commit money, despite efforts by the president of the Sesame Council, Oxford’s Chris Llewellyn Smith. The EU has already contributed $4.5m.

The project is the first synchrotron light-source to be built in the region and is modelled on Cern, the Geneva-based European Laboratory for Particle Physics. Sesame is being developed under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Unesco, and will be used to study materials in a range of disciplines from biology to archaeology and physics.

So far the value of investments, including donated equipment, has reached $55m, but total starting costs including manpower and the site in Jordan are thought to total $110m.