The Middle East Just Got its First Particle Accelerator

The Middle East Just Got its First Particle Accelerator

While Jared Kushner presumably slaves over a way to bring peace to the Middle East, a group of Middle Eastern physicists in Jordan might already have the answer.

It’s not a traditional peace agreement in any way, but the method works under the premise that friction from opposing sides can sometimes lead to radical breakthroughs. The Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) opened Tuesday — the Middle East’s first particle accelerator. And it has paired Israeli and Arab scientists working side by side in a way diplomats might only dream of.

Located in Allan, Jordan, just 35 kilometers from Amman, SESAME — Alibaba’s famous password — aims to promote scientific research built on the hope that its “diverse members could work together harmoniously,” said Chris Llewellyn Smith, President of the SESAME Council, at the opening ceremony. Before to heading SESAME, Smith worked at the world’s largest particle accelerator facility in Geneva, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN.

The $90 million facility was formally founded in 2004, with UNESCO’s support. While it will operate as a larger research center, SESAME’s pride and joy is its synchrotron accelerator. For almost a century, scientists have realized a good way to study particles is to fling them at things at a high speed. The particle accelerator propels electrons through the 133-meter-long ring until they near the speed of light. At such a high speed, these particles emit intense light beams that tell scientists about these certain forms of matter.

Like joint Arab-Israeli orchestras and artistic endeavors, SESAME offers a shot at reconciliation in a troubled region.

“There was never such a facility in the region until now, and this project is a scientific bridge between countries,” Nasher Sawadi, a Jordanian physicist who plans to work there told Haaretz.

“We don’t mix politics with science,” one of the project’s backers, Prof. Dincer Ulku of Turkey, also told the paper. “And the work on establishing the facility was not influenced by political issues. I believe that a person needs to be good, no matter where he comes from.”

The center includes participation from Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey.

Particle physics is not the only game in town. Among the more than 550 research requests submitted to the group are plans to study pollution in the Jordan River Valley, discover new drugs for cancer therapy, and study the chemical composition of ancient manuscripts to better date them in history.

Additionally, SESAME has one thing to put it ahead of its American and European peers. Smith says it will be the world’s first accelerator powered solely by renewable energy.

“As well as being a day for celebration, the opening is an occasion to look forward to the science that SESAME will produce,” Smith said Tuesday.

Photo credit: DEAN MOUHTAROPOULOS/Getty Images