SESAME welcomes new director

Published online 20 January 2020

A new scientific director will soon be arriving to head Jordan’s synchrotron light source, SESAME.

Fabio Turone

SESAME's booster and microtron
SESAME's booster and microtron
SESAME’s international governing board has selected Italian physicist Andrea Lausi as the new scientific director of the synchrotron light source, which has been in operation in Allan, Jordan since May 2017. Lausi was previously in charge of the Xpress high-pressure diffraction beamline at the Elettra synchrotron in Trieste, Italy, and plans to move to Allan in the first weeks of 2020. “My mandate is to consolidate SESAME’s three existing beamlines and to start operations on two more, which are funded by Germany and the European Union,” he says. 

SESAME is a cooperative project inspired by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. It was jointly brought forward in 2002 to UNESCO by countries that, in some cases, do not have diplomatic relations. The fundraising took many years, with endless ups and downs. “In my first meetings, I spoke with many members of the local scientific communities who were sceptical after so many years of promises,” says Giorgio Paolucci, who has just completed a six-year stint as SESAME’s scientific director, and has now returned to Italy as Elettra’s chief scientific officer.

Paolucci decided early on not to stick with the original plans of relocating and refitting old machines donated by European countries to build four beamlines at SESAME. Instead, he used the available resources to establish three top-notch beamlines. 

In this kind of plant, an accelerating particle beam travels around a fixed, closed-loop path, producing synchrotron light that can be used for different purposes: typically measurements or experiments, depending on the device attached at the end of each beamline. SESAME’s three beamlines are used for X-ray absorption fine structure (XFAS) and X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy, infrared spectromicroscopy, and materials science. 

The first has recently received a new X-ray detector add-on, which is expected to offer unparalleled performance, as it can detect contaminants in a sample in parts per million, compared to the parts per thousand possible with commercially available detectors, explains Paolucci. This improvement is part of the collaboration with Elettra and the Italian Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN). It is funded by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

INFN has also donated a new guesthouse and meeting facility, inaugurated at the end of November 2019. The guesthouse will allow scientists to follow their experiments around the clock and provide them with the chance to meet other research groups for informal discussions.

“With 70 experiments completed and now the opening of the third beamline, SESAME has proven its value, also thanks to the great job done by Paolucci,” says Rolf Heuer, former director general of CERN and current president of SESAME’s council. 

SESAME is currently facing rising demands, with applications arriving from research groups in countries as far as Italy, Sweden and Mexico.