Taking SESAME to the classroom

The 2014 High School Teacher Programme (HST) is well under way, and this year it has a distinct Middle Eastern flavour, with eight teachers from the region among the 54 taking part.


Established in the late 1990s, HST is a three-week residential programme in English designed to give teachers a taste of frontier research and promote the teaching of modern physics in high schools. Along with the more than 30 other teacher schools given in the native language of the participants, HST aims to help teachers bring modern physics to the classroom and motivate their students to study science at upper secondary school and university.

As part of the HST programme, teachers form working groups to develop lessons based on CERN science. This year, however, with eight teachers coming from Israel, Palestine, Iran and Jordan, all of which are members of SESAME, the international laboratory for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science Applications in the Middle East, one group is working on a different area of science. SESAME, currently under construction, is a light source.  It will circulate beams of electrons that will in turn produce intense pulses of X-rays with wavelengths and intensities that allow the detailed study of objects ranging in size from viruses to atoms.

SESAME has much in common with CERN. It was established under the auspices of UNESCO, as was CERN, and it has the dual mission of providing a centre of excellence for science and a catalyst for peace in a troubled region, as was CERN 60 years ago. The eight teachers from SESAME member states are therefore working on lesson plans for 13-to-15-year-old students based on the science, its potential applications and the harmonious influence SESAME is already having on relations between its members. They are also looking at the success CERN enjoys in providing a forum for international dialogue, and they are drawing parallels between the two laboratories, so that when they go home they can show their young students a different vision of the region in which they live.

Eight teachers may seem a small number, but then when the idea for SESAME was first mooted it seemed an impossible dream. Yet today, its construction is nearing completion, it has a scientific user community waiting in the wings to carry out world-class research, and now it is on its way to Middle Eastern school classrooms. A little over 60 years ago, a world-leading institute for particle physics with over 11,000 users of 100 nationalities must have seemed a pretty remote prospect for Europe, yet here we are. Let us hope that years from now, we’ll be able to join in another festival of science for peace, this time in another part of the world.

Rolf Heuer