November 19, 2008

A few days ago, the German Jordanian University hosted Dr. Herman Winick to talk about the various uses of synchrotron radiation. This came as part of the activities to introduce SESAME as a significant new research tool for Jordan and the region.

Synchrotron radiation is a very high intensity, highly tunable electromagnetic radiation. In the sciences, x-rays are typically produced using special cathode tubes. In most cases, these are sufficient for various analytical purposes, i.e. determination of chemical (by X-ray fluorescence) and crystal structures (by X-ray diffraction) of various materials. However, x-rays produced by cathode tubes are low intensity and can not be tuned to specific frequencies. This places limitation on studying complex crystal structures and intricacies of the distribution of elements within various biological, archaeological and environmental samples. Synchrotron radiation overcomes these limitations and more.

Until Dr. Winick’s talk, I have been somewhat skeptical about what use it would be, as it seemed to me that that generating x-rays using synchrotron radiation was expensive overkill. However, during the talk, it became clear that such radiation offers a whole different level of scientific investigation, which could never be achieved in existing facilities in Jordan. I think that Winick pointing out how many Nobel prizes have been won by scientists through the use of synchrotron radiation brought this point home.

Sesame is a regional project by UNESCO to establish a synchrotron light source in Jordan. Building is underway in ‘Allan near Salt, and the project is expected to be up and running in 2012. This will provide a significant boost to science in Jordan, and I look forward to witnessing it and hopefully being part of it.

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