In a region racked by conflict and tension, an ambitious research centre is fostering cooperation and scientific advancement
In the sleepy hillside town in al-Balqa, not far from the Jordan Valley, a grand project is taking shape. The Middle Easts new particle accelerator the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications, or Sesame is being built.
In a region racked by violence, extremism and the disintegration of nation states, Sesame feels a world apart; the meditative peace of the surrounding countryside belying the advanced stages of construction inside the site, which is due to be formally inaugurated next spring, with the first experiments taking place as early as this autumn.
Its a miracle it got off the ground in the first place. Sesames members are Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Bahrain. Iran and Pakistan do not recognise Israel, nor does Turkey recognise Cyprus, and everyone has their myriad diplomatic spats.
Iran, for example, continues to participate despite two of its scientists who were involved in the project, quantum physicist Masoud Alimohammadi and nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, being assassinated in operations blamed on Israels Mossad.
Were cooperating very well together, said Giorgio Paolucci, the scientific director of Sesame. Thats the dream.
I dont know how many places there are where all these governments have representatives who have the opportunity to come and talk to each other, he added.
In council meetings, representatives of governments meet and discuss technical issues, and come to agreements, the talks untainted by the perpetual enmity outside the conference halls.
At 130 metres in diameter, Sesames particle accelerator is dwarfed by the Large Hadron Collider, the immense structure in Switzerland that last year detected the God particle, otherwise known as the Higgs Boson, an elementary particle that gives other fundamental particles their mass. But the project is sophisticated and could have many applications and offer research opportunities for a region that has long grappled with funding shortfalls and lack of political will in the advancement of science.
There are so many applications that actually we are somehow limited by our fantasy, said Paolucci. You can study almost anything. Here we can study everything from isolated atoms to human beings and everything which is in between these two extremes is allowed.