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SESAME’s first publication sees light

Published online 20 June 2019

Debut publication from Middle East synchrotron data probes catalytic transformation of glycerol.

Sedeer el-Showk

A group of graduate students from Bilkent University’s chemistry department (Ankara, Turkey) conducting experiments at the XAFS/XRF beamline at SESAME.
A group of graduate students from Bilkent University’s chemistry department (Ankara, Turkey) conducting experiments at the XAFS/XRF beamline at SESAME.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Messaoud Harfouche, SESAME, Allan, Jordan
This month sees the publication of the first study1  based on data collected at the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME), a historical accomplishment for the ambitious and often-troubled multinational particle accelerator. “SESAME is finally a scientific reality bringing opportunity to the scientific community in the Middle East,” says Giorgio Paolucci, the facility’s scientific director.

Originally proposed in 1997 and initiated in 2002, SESAME is a cooperative venture between regional governments that otherwise rarely see eye-to-eye; including Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Turkey amongst its members. The facility based in Allan, near Amman, Jordan, has had to overcome technical challenges, funding gaps, and political upheavals in member countries before finally becoming operational in 2018.

The first proposals included a study using SESAME’s X-ray absorption fine structure/X-ray fluorescence (XAFS/XRF) spectroscopy beamline to investigate the electronic structure of nanoparticle catalysts used to transform carbon dioxide and glycerol into synthesis gas (syngas) through a process known as dry reforming. Glycerol forms as a waste product during the synthesis of biodiesel. Syngas can be used to produce synthetic fuels and chemicals.

“Our study provided molecular-level insights into the structure-functionality relationships of glycerol dry reforming catalysts,” says Emrah Ozensoy of Turkey’s Bilkent University, who led the study, along with Ahmet Kerim Avci of Bogazici University in Turkey. “SESAME was instrumental in this project as the XAFS/XRF experiments require energetic X-ray beams that aren’t available in ordinary bench-top lab instruments.”

SESAME’s Paolucci says this publication “represents a major milestone for our laboratory after years of intensive work.” Further publications using SESAME data are in the pipeline, tackling questions in fields as diverse as materials science, life science, and archaeometry.

Ozensoy and Avci plan to continue the collaboration with SESAME. Several of Ozensoy’s students are attending a training course at SESAME in the summer of 2019, and his group plans to carry out more XAFS/XRF experiments in December 2019 and January 2020. SESAME is also continuing to expand, with a new beamline expected to come into operation by the end of this year and two more in development.

Ozensoy says SESAME offers an international scientific environment and a great place for collaborations. “SESAME is operated by a relatively small number of staff who are extremely talented, hardworking and devoted to making it an internationally recognized, competitive and critically acclaimed research centre,” he says. With external researchers using the facility and more publications in the pipeline, it seems the dream of photons for peace could become a reality.

doi:10.1038/nmiddleeast.2019.90


  1. Bac, S., et al. Exceptionally active and stable catalysts for CO2 reforming of glycerol to syngas. Appl. Catal. B. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apcatb.2019.117808 (2019).