International Interdisciplinary Research Facilities In A Scientific US-Senegal Partnership

By Drs. Paul Guèye (Hampton University, Virginia), Oumar Ka (University Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal), Wendell Hill (University of Maryland College Park, Maryland), Keith Jackson (Florida A&M University, Florida), Anthony Johnson (University of Maryland Baltimore County, Maryland), Lawrence Norris (National Society of Black Physicists, Virginia)and Quinton Williams (Jackson State University, Mississippi)

There is an international partnership of more than 70 countries that aims at constructing two international research facilities located in the United States and Africa. The US-based facility will host a multi-ultra fast laser system and the African-based facility two proton accelerators.


Initiated in 1993 in Senegal (West Africa), this project has spinned-off to the US in 1999. Since then, three meetings were held (American Physical Society in 2002, National Science Foundation in 2003 and Senegalese Government in 2003), and four workshops were organized (three in the US - Hampton University in 2004, Jackson State University in 2005, and during the National Society of Black Physicists in 2006 -- and one at the World Congress on Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering in Seoul, also in 2006). The current development of this partnership includes drafts for a full design of all systems at each facility, as well as the physics and educational programs to be implemented.

Front view of the international research facilities (courtesy of Archi Design).
Front view of the international research facilities (courtesy of Archi Design).

Both facilities were developed to provide multi-disciplinary research centered on a common technology, ultra fast laser for the US and proton accelerators for Senegal. The project aims at providing a tool for scientists where interdisciplinary aspects could be shared to answer fundamental issues in science.

Similarly, the Senegal facility was conceived for scientific capacity building and equally to act as a focal point aimed at using the local scientific expertise. An anticipated outcome would be a contribution to the reduction of an ever-growing brain drain process suffered by the country, and the African continent in general. The past few years has seen the involvement in the project of a group of highly qualified scientists from various fields (materials science, atomic physics, physical chemistry, medical physics ...). The eventual development of the idea led also to a strong African orientation of the facility, much in the philosophy of the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD). Indeed, although built for international collaboration, it is to be a pan-African endeavor (i.e., located in Senegal but to serve primarily African countries).

The International Facilities

The US facility will host a complex ultrafast laser system. These types of lasers have typically a micron spot size, a few tens or hundreds of femto seconds in time duration and can have up to Peta Watts of power. Applications of such ultrafast lasers range from astrophysics and nuclear/high energy physics to plasma physics, optical sciences, biology/medical applications, and materials science. The proposed facility will have four primary beamlines: a low power line [0.1 Tera Watts, 1 kHz], a medium power line [10 Tera Watts, 9 kHz], a high power line [100 Tera Watts, 10 Hz] and an ultra-high power line [500 Tera Watts, 10 Hz]. Each line will comprise five experimental rooms to conduct this multidisciplinary physics research program. This facility will be the first ever of its kind in the world and dedicated to elevate the scientific community to a level never achieved before.

The Senegal facility, which received a presidential approval in a 2003 meeting, will develop an activity driven by an interdisciplinary program. The research program has been built around the on-site expertise, with the involvement of a dozen of scientists with broad international experience (Japan, France, US, Germany, Italy, etc). The facility will also address specific environmental issues for African countries through a devoted component. A major part of the activity of the facility will be centered on state-of-the art accelerator mass spectrometry and cyclotron systems. The type of physics research to be carried out in this facility will consist of material sciences, Rutherford backscattering spectrometry, particle induced X-ray emission, 14C dating, cancer and ophthalmology treatments, as well as strangeness nuclear physics. The cyclotron will provide the tool for not only an accurate technique for staging and therapeutic monitoring in oncology, but also to help with diagnosing and staging of various diseases, especially in the area of cancer.

Both facilities are committed to providing strong educational training facilities for pre-college (K-12) and college students, as well as various outreach and collaborative programs (including exchange of students and faculty, local and international, to establish and sustain a strong research collaboration). These science-related activities are necessary to contribute in solving the important need for national education of young scientists. In particular, these facilities will continue to foster the need for underrepresented scientists in certain fields by creating a pipeline between K-12 students and colleges.

The economic and political impact of such facilities will be unprecedented in providing a unique tool for establishing partnerships in these areas. A multicultural exchange would now be possible between all continents involved at a level never attained before. Not only would international exchange of both students and faculty permit the implementation of dual or joint degrees, but also allow access to highly qualified personnel for the workforce.