SESAME, the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East laboratory, based in Allan, Jordan, is an intergovernmental organisation established on the CERN model under the auspices of UNESCO. It opened its doors to users in 2017, offering third-generation X-ray beamlines for a range of disciplines, aiming to be the first international Middle-Eastern research institution enabling scientists to collaborate peacefully for the generation of knowledge.
SESAME has eight full Members (Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Türkiye) and 17 Observers, including CERN, and has just welcomed its first Associate Member: following approval by the governments of all of SESAME’s Members in July, Iraq will accede to Associate Membership of the laboratory, paving the way to full Membership in the future.
“My visit to SESAME on 8 June 2023 has convinced me that Iraq will stand to greatly benefit from membership, and that this would be the right moment for it to become a Member,” stated Naeem Alaboodi, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Head of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, in his letter to Rolf Heuer, President of the SESAME Council and former CERN Director-General. “However, before doing so, it would like to better familiarise itself with the governance, procedures and activity of this centre, and it feels that the best way of doing this would be by first taking on Associate Membership.”
“The Council and all the Members of SESAME are delighted by Iraq’s decision,” said Rolf Heuer. “We look forward to further countries of the region joining the SESAME family, both for the benefit they will derive from the many opportunities SESAME offers, and for the experience they will bring to SESAME.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been actively encouraging those of its Member States located in the SESAME region to seek membership of SESAME and, in the words of the Deputy Director-General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation of the IAEA, Hua Liu, “Iraq’s formal association with SESAME is an excellent development and there is no doubt that its status of Associate Member, to be followed soon after, it is hoped, by full Membership, will allow the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission to further develop its aim of using relevant technologies for different applications, especially health care, agriculture, the environment, the oil industry and cultural heritage.”
The first proposal for beam time has already been submitted by Iraq: it is a joint project between the Natural History Museum in Iraq and the British Museum in the UK to study a unique set of complex stromatolites and thrombolites – sedimentary formations created by microorganisms – collected at Ganau Spring in the northeast of Iraq.
SESAME, like CERN, was established as a place for promoting both excellent science and peaceful collaboration. Iraq’s accession to Associate Membership is another step in this direction, and many more countries in the Middle East and neighbouring regions will undoubtedly soon follow in its footsteps.
To find out more, read the article “SESAME’s 30-year-long journey in science diplomacy” in the CERN Courier, January/February 2023, p.28.