REPORTING THE NEWS YOU PROBABLY MISSED…
MAKING PEACE: IRAN AND ISRAEL SHUN CONFLICT TO WORK TOGETHER
Guru’s writers give a roundup of some interesting and quirky developments that didn’t make it into the popular press.
Just as Ali Baba called out the words ‘open sesame’ to unseal the cave of treasures in
Arabian Nights, Middle Eastern scientists are hoping to evoke the same spirit of opening doors by naming their collaborative particle accelerator project SESAME. In a region better known for violent conflict, countries including Iran, Turkey, Egypt and even Israel, are coming together to back the construction of a machine similar to the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland – a synchrotron light-source, and the first of its kind in the Middle East. Set for completion in 2015, SESAME (Synchrotron light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) will be built in Jordan and will act somewhat like a giant microscope. Electrons are to be accelerated to near the speed of light around a circular chamber by powerful magnets, releasing an energy called ‘synchrotron radiation’, which is then diverted into ‘beamlines’. These beamlines can be tweaked to the specific needs of the research being conducted, with applications ranging from the study of viruses to the development of new materials. The SESAME venture is aimed at fostering scientific excellence and economic development, using physics to bridge cultural and social rifts. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of SESAME is the cooperation between Iran and Israel, whose relationship has become increasingly strained recently. Officials from each country are putting aside accounts of industrial sabotage and calls for each other’s destruction, choosing to set an example by securing continued funding instead. Observers from Western Europe and the US are overseeing the project to ensure that the national scientific interests of each member state are properly represented. Work conducted at the institute must be made available to all, with no allowance given for classified or military research so as not to exacerbate the already volatile political situation. Maintaining relations between the Arab, Iranian and Israeli backers presents the project’s organisers with a serious diplomatic challenge. The recent heightening of tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran makes the task even more difficult, but the council’s members are hopeful that these usually hostile countries may find common ground in the goal of scientific advancement. Prof. Eliezer Rabinovici, a physicist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is optimistic that peace will prevail: “We are having a rough period now – a very rough period – and it may become even rougher. But I think that as scientists, we have to look at the long range, and in the long range we see no conflict of interest between the people of Iran and the people of Israel.”