Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SESAME, Jerash, and the U.S. Embassy (Jordan Style)

June 3, we visited the International Centre for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science Applications in the Middle East (SESAME), the city of Jerash (known for the ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Gerasa), and the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan.
We started our last day in the country by going to the International Centre for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science Applications in the Middle East (SESAME). SESAME is an independent laboratory developed under the umbrella of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and is located in Alaan, Jordan. Jordan was selected from seven different countries as the construction location due to generous donations from the Jordanian government. In addition to the Jordanian government, SESAME has received gifts such as components for the synchrotron radiation source from the German government as well as technical support from Armenia and Russia. The countries currently collaborating on the project include Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey. Observer countries taking interest in the project include Germany, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Russian Federation, Sweden, the UK, and the US. The project was launched in 1999 and final construction is expected to be competed by 2014, but possibly as early as 2006.

We began our tour of the facility with an introductory powerpoint lecture delivered by one of the Jordanian scientists working on the project. The content of the lecture consisted of the projects objectives, technical design, and construction logistics. The design uses a circular loop of evacuated tubing through which electrons are accelerated (near the speed of light) using magnets. The accelerated electrons produce light (radiation) with energies spanning from the infrared to the x-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which can then be channeled and used in various experiments.

According to project coordinators, 'specific programs planned for SESAME include structural molecular biology, molecular environmental science, surface and interface science, microelectromechanical devices, x-ray imaging, archeological microanalysis, materials characterization, and clinical medical applications.'

Our next stop was the city of Jerash, about 30 miles North of Amman, known for the ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. Extensive excavation has revealed the well-preserved buildings, streets, and forums in which the inhabitants of Gerasa rambled, mingled, and bartered. In fact, the oval Forum of Jerash is considered to be the best-preserved forum in the world. Another of the most spectacular and well-preserved parts of Gerasa was the Roman Amphitheater. One of our classmates tested the acoustics by reciting Lewis Carroll's 'Jabberwocky' on stage. The brilliant engineering allowed the stage performer to be easily heard, even from back row seating - a necessity in the days before electronic amplification.

After eating lunch at a restaurant in Jerash, we headed for the U.S. Embassy in Amman. After passing through the heavily guarded security gate, we were led to an air-conditioned conference room to listen to presentations and engage in discussion about Jordan's future. We heard talks from representatives of the Economic Development Program SEBEQ in Jordan, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and responsible for promoting research, development, and technology through innovation. The primary speakers, who represented the Private Sector Productivity Pillar of SEBEQ, were Mark McCord (Pillar lead) and Kinan Jaradat (Business Process Outsourcing and Shared Services Sector Lead). They delivered presentations about how countries such as Jordan can become competitive globally, highlighting tactics concentrating development strategies on innovation targeted private sectors, such as companies developing and implementing alternative energy sources. On a national scale, Mark resurrected the notion of the 'trickle down effect' as an economic building block for Jordan's internal prosperity, claiming that investment in innovative companies would make them productive and competitive and the fiscal prosperity that follows will somehow trickle down the economic ladder to all Jordanians.

Whether or not these approaches are enough to bolster Jordan to economic prosperity was brought up in the discussion that followed the lectures. The SEBEQ representatives were also questioned about the 'brain drain' phenomenon in Jordan, to which they assured us that Jordanians educated and working outside of the country are beginning to come back to start companies, bringing with them the wealth and knowledge accumulated abroad. The anecdotal evidence and 'red herring' arguments provided during the meeting left many of us with a bad taste in our mouths, but we had been granted a glimpse into the minds of Jordan's future corporate developers, and now it was time to go home.

We ate one final Jordanian meal at the Tawaheen Al Hawa Restaurant and were subsequently driven to the airport by our trusted, albeit sometimes chaotic, bus driver.

Taking one last look at the land all of us came to understand a little better, we boarded the plane and departed for America.