New beamline sheds light on cultural heritage at SESAME

Published online 31 May 2023

The addition of a fifth beamline expands the facility’s scientific scope.

Sedeer el-Showk

The beamline setup during the experiment on BEATS.
The beamline setup during the experiment on BEATS.
The SESAME synchrotron in Jordan has activated its newest beamline. On May 11, the BEATS beamline scanned a test sample with its X-ray photon beam, opening the path to a new array of experiments at the international facility.

“Each beamline is basically a different laboratory performing different types of experiments,” says Gianluca Iori, the BEATS beamline scientist, explaining that BEATS offers the advantage of being non-destructive. “We perform CT scans – like you’d get in a hospital, but with the resolution of a microscope. With the X-rays, we can look inside samples in three dimensions without sectioning them. We can inspect fossils, biological tissues, or composite engineering materials at astonishing resolution without damaging the samples.”

Although the new beamline will be used for experiments in fields ranging from materials science to biology, Iori notes that it will be especially useful for studying archaeology and cultural heritage. “The beamline was designed with these fields in mind because of the rich cultural heritage of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean region.”

In the test run, scientists collected a set of 1,000 X-ray images of a rotating sample in 12 seconds. The images were analysed using the beamline’s high-performance computing facility to produce a 3D reconstruction of the sample, a vial filled with glass spheres.

Iori, who joined SESAME in 2020, is proud of the team’s accomplishment. “I found world-class engineers when I joined. Some of the design solutions they came up with for BEATS are already attracting interest from people at other facilities.”

The beamline was built and designed as a collaboration between SESAME and several European synchrotron facilities. “One of the challenges of this project was collaborating across seven different countries in the [beamline’s] design and procurement,” says Iori, adding that having to meet online because of COVID restrictions made the process even harder. “But we tried to keep our enthusiasm and motivation at a maximum, and we came out of that as a very close and motivated team.”

Project proposals for the BEATS beamline will open in September. “There’s already been a lot of interest from researchers working in cultural heritage, palaeontology, biotechnology, soil, and agricultural sciences,” says Iori. “Keeping up with the demands of the different communities will be challenging but that’s the essence of a beamline mission.”