The project is called SESAME and it has already opened lines of communication between nine countries that have at times been at war with each other. The acronym stands for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East and, interestingly, it is backed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority as well as Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey.

Jordan has provided the land and building to house the accelerator complex and associated infrastructure in Amman while the nine countries are collectively covering the annual recurrent budget and are committed to meeting the operating costs, expected to rise to US$8 million a year when SESAME comes into operation.

Germany donated components of a decommissioned light source that is being upgraded to form the booster to inject electrons into a new 133-metre main storage ring. Components that have become surplus to requirements have also been donated by laboratories in the US and Europe, including the UK, which has given five 'beamlines'.

The booster synchrotron will be commissioned with beam early next year. Construction of a new 2.5 GeV main storage ring is ready to start and the third generation SESAME light-source is on track for experiments to begin in 2015 with three 'day-one' beamlines - provided the necessary funding is secured.

Some $20 million is required in manpower and operational costs. This is expected to be provided by the member countries but an additional $35 million is also needed in capital funding with the full cost expected to exceed $110 million, including the value of the land and building and equipment donated by various synchrotron laboratories around the world.

The value of the investments made so far by Jordan, the other eight countries and the European Union, plus the donated equipment to be used from the beginning of operations, amounts to some $55 million.

Users of SESAME will be researchers in universities and research institutes in the region who will visit the laboratory periodically to carry out experiments, generally in collaboration.

The potential user community already numbers 300 and has been fostered by a series of users' meetings, and by training opportunities supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as national organisations such as the US Department of Energy and many of the world's synchrotron laboratories in Europe, North America, Asia and Latin America.

With the help of UNESCO, the founding countries of SESAME are seeking additional members from across the Middle East and neighbouring nations. France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US are "observers".

SESAME was created under the auspices of UNESCO, which is the depository for the statutes of the centre and is represented on the SESAME council, while the International Atomic Energy Agency also sends a representative to council meetings.

A SESAME spokesperson said the aim in establishing the synchrotron was to foster scientific and technological excellence in the Middle East and neighbouring countries, and prevent or reverse the brain drain by enabling world-class research in subjects ranging from biology and medical sciences through materials science, physics and chemistry to archaeology.

The scheme would also build scientific and cultural bridges between neighbouring countries and foster mutual understanding and tolerance through international cooperation.

At present, some 60 synchrotron light-sources are operating around the world*, including a few in developing countries but none in the Middle East.

Resolutions and endorsements in support of SESAME have been issued by UNESCO's executive board, the International Union for Pure and Applied Physics, the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the US National Commission for UNESCO and 45 Nobel Laureates in a joint statement.

At the last SEASAME council meeting at the end of May, Director Dr Khaled Toukan, Jordan's Minister of Energy, and Technical Director Dr Amor Nadji presented an update on progress in building the facility. They reported that the radiation shielding wall was complete and the tunnels were ready for installation of the accelerators.

Commitments and offers confirmed and announced during the meeting look set to provide most of the capital funding needed to complete construction and allow experiments to begin in 2015 with three beamlines.

Iran, Israel and Jordan confirmed commitments to provide $1 million each this year and in each of the subsequent four years, provided at least one other country joins the initiative this year and another also joins in subsequent years.

The Turkish Atomic Energy Authority announced it would join, although certain formal steps must be taken before payments can be made. The Egyptian Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Technology has requested $5 million from the Ministry of Finance, starting with a budget allocation of $1 million for the financial year that began on 1 July. The Palestinian Authority confirmed an offer to make an in-kind contribution of up to $2 million and Pakistan said it would make an in-kind contribution of up to $5 million.

Closing the meeting, Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, council President and Director of Energy Research at Oxford University, said he was now confident that SESAME was on track technically and would soon also be positioned financially for experiments to begin in 2015.

"It is a remarkable tribute to the spirit of cooperation in pursuit of a common goal which underwrites the project, that SESAME is progressing so well during a time of external turbulence," Smith said.

* The future of the US$200 million Australian synchrotron in Melbourne is in doubt after a new state conservative government in Victoria refused to guarantee funding beyond the middle of next year. The federal government says it will not contribute more than the $115 million it has already paid and blasted the state government for being "short sighted".

Professor Andrew Peele, head of science for the synchrotron, said thousands of scientists had used the facility for work ranging from medical research to forensics. "We've only been operating for four years [but] we've already achieved wonderful results across hundreds, literally hundreds, of different areas of research," Peele said.