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The Middle East’s Only High-Energy Physics Lab Faces a New Test: Surviving Covid-19

Editor’s Note: This article was published by Science|Business, a publication that informs and brings together Europe’s top stakeholders in industry, research and policy. Read the full article on the site of Al-Fanar Media partner Science|Business here.

The severe economic shock of the pandemic is the latest and possibly sharpest test yet of the Sesame synchrotron’s admirable survival skills.

The region’s only high-energy physics lab is back in operation after a partial easing of the lockdown in Jordan, where it is based.

Sesame—Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East—is the first major international research centre in the region, run by physicists from an unlikely group of countries, some of which are in mutual conflict. Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey are the founder members.

After years of doubts about the project’s feasibility, Sesame began operating in 2017. “There’s been many times when a rational person would have given up,” said Chris Llewellyn Smith, a British physicist and former president of the Sesame council, the governing body of the facility. (See a related article “In a Fractious Region, a New Physics Facility Fosters Collaboration.”)

The darker economic environment caused by the pandemic is just the latest challenge, he said, following years of walking a political and technical tightrope.

“It’s always been very difficult—many of these [member] countries, you can’t find their science budgets with a microscope. The funds involved in Sesame are huge for some of them.”

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