APS News

Planning Africa’s First Synchrotron

By Michael Lucibella

SESAME synchrotron

The SESAME synchrotron is a model for a light source being planned for Africa.

APS March Meeting 2015, San Antonio — Africa may get its first synchrotron sometime in the next ten to fifteen years, joining other nations that seek to bolster their scientific and technological development. At this year’s March Meeting, experts highlighted how scientists from across Africa and around the world are working to build the first such light source on the African continent.

The project is still in its early phases, but scientists from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and other nations have signed on. After convening an interim steering committee in August of last year, they announced that a major planning workshop will be held in November at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France.

The organization for the proposed African Light Source is patterned after the international collaboration building a third-generation synchrotron in Jordan: The Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) is a collaboration among nine member states to build a third-generation accelerator facility under the auspices of UNESCO.

“The model for [the African Light Source] is really the SESAME project, which itself is modeled on CERN,” said Herman Winick, professor emeritus at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Winick was instrumental in getting SESAME off the ground, and he is now working with the newly-formed steering committee to do the same in Africa. He added that the demand for a user facility is there. South Africa recently signed on to ESRF as a member state and has been sending 40 scientists a year there for beam time.

“Africa is developing. It has major concerns in the environmental and biomedical area that can be addressed with synchrotron radiation,” Winick said. “It’s very relevant to have such a facility, so dedicated, motivated African scientists can work on biomedical [and] environmental problems that are of particular interest to that region.”

He added also that the team was hoping to construct the finished accelerator within ten to fifteen years.

Synchrotron facilities are both a hallmark of national development and a catalyst for it. Around the world, many countries that are ramping up their science programs build such machines to boost science and industry at home and keep their best-trained researchers from emigrating.

“That kind of scientific investment has worked for Brazil,” said Antonio José Roque da Silva, director of the Laboratório Nacional de Luz Síncrotron (LNLS), the only synchrotron in Latin America. That nation opened the LNLS in 1997 and is currently working on a cutting edge, fourth-generation synchrotron called Sirius, which will be one of the world’s best.

“The synchrotron project in Brazil was the most successful scientific … [effort] that Brazil has gotten into,” da Silva said. “In about 30 years you start from nothing, no people, no technical training, and now we’re … able to try to compete with a state-of-the-art machine and collaborate all over the world.”

The original light source has been a big boost to the scientific infrastructure in Brazil, helping to make the state of Sao Paulo the scientific powerhouse of the continent. Three other labs, devoted to nanotechnology, microbiology and bioethanol research, have been built on the same campus as the synchrotron.

“Our major effort throughout these few years is to attract more and more users from different areas,” da Silva said, adding that the brain-drain of scientists leaving the country for better facilities elsewhere in the world has slowed.

Other countries are similarly following Brazil’s model. At the same time that Brazil started designing the LNLS, Taiwan and South Korea also were losing many talented young scientists to institutions abroad.

“Taiwan, Korea [and] Brazil started their discussions about national light sources in the 1980s,” Winick said, referring to facilities that became operational in the 1990s. “In the time since then … they’ve trained hundreds of Ph.D.s locally without losing them. They’ve attracted dozens of mid-career people to return.”

Iran and Turkey are currently designing and building their own national light sources. Even though both nations are members of the SESAME collaboration, the capabilities of the respective light sources will complement the capabilities of the Jordanian-based machine.

Since its announcement in 2010, engineers working on the Iranian Light Source Facility completed a detailed plan and built a number of prototypes for nearly every major component of the injector and storage rings. The synchrotron will be located at the Imam Khomeini Science and Technology Park in Qazvin province. The original plan was to have the facility online by 2018, but the schedule has since slipped.

The Turkish Accelerator Center announced in 2009 that it is currently working on building the first of its three planned projects. The TARLA free electron laser is slated for completion in 2016, while the second phase of the project, the planned TURKAY synchrotron, is still in the design phase.

“The community of users that need these machines is growing more rapidly than the available facilities and beamlines, so we need SESAME.” Winick said. “We need an African Light Source and we need more national light sources.”

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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella
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