A collaboration has been brewing in a part of the world known more for turmoil than unity. Middle Eastern countries are in the midst of working together to build a particle accelerator similar to CERN, the famous Switzerland laboratory. Sesame is an international research center being built in the foothills of Amman, Jordan. It is scheduled to open and begin in research in 2015, but right now the effort remains in the planning stages. The multitude of diplomatic conflicts could be conceived as more mind boggling than the research itself. Countries involved include Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and more… yes I said Israel.
This project is a diplomatic minefield. Just a few examples:
1. Turkey and Cyprus do not recognize each other as countries.
2. Iran and Pakistan do not recognize Israel.
3. Saudi Arabia has refused to participate up to this point due to Israeli involvement.
4. The US has been present at meetings, but refuses to support the effort financially due to Iran’s involvement.
5. Two of the Iranian scientists involved with Sesame have been jailed.
This isn’t your average international collaboration where the biggest worries are language barriers and work visas.
The BBC has been reporting on this and has commented on the appearance of the meeting rooms. There is a mixture of dresses, garb, and women with varying amounts of their bodies covered. However, one thing has remained the same when the doors are closed these ‘enemies’ keep diplomatic issues outside and the chat about the real business– science — inside.
Despite obvious challenges, research at Sesame will most likely begin in three years. Against all odds this project is in the advanced building stages and funding has been confirmed for the next development stage.
Certain barriers still exist including Iran’s nuclear development, Saudi Arabia’s financial absence, and Jordan’s domestic grumblings, but despite all of this the project moves forward. I have always known science is an international language. Throughout my time in the field, I have benefitted from international collaboration and conversation. But until this point, I never thought science could serve as a passport between a part of the world with the longest lasting, irresolute conflicts.
In some respects, this restores my faith in humanity a bit. It makes me proud to be a scientist. I look forward to the research resulting from such an advanced, international laboratory, and remain in utter shock and awe that this is even occurring.
[All photographs are courteous of the BBC]