Guru Magazine - - CONTENTS - Toby Brown

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.”

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