A synchrotron light – or synchrotron radiation – source produces very intense pulses of light/X-rays, with wave lengths and intensities that allow detailed studies of objects ranging in size from human cells, through viruses down to atoms, with a precision that is not possible by other means. Advanced sources of light (like lasers and synchrotrons) have therefore become prime factors in promoting scientific and technological progress, and in recent decades the extraordinary power of synchrotron light has had an immense impact in fields that include archaeology, biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, medicine and physics.

The heart of a synchrotron light source is a ring of magnets (133.2m in circumference in the case of SESAME) in which electrons are stored after being accelerated to high energy. The 'synchrotron light' emitted by the electrons is directed towards the beamlines which surround the storage ring and are connected to it. Each beamline is designed for use with a specific technique or for a specific type of research.

Synchrotrons are relatively expensive devices which are frequently built by international collaborations. Working in collaboration has the important benefit that it disseminates the highest scientific and technical standards through the participating countries, which helps foster the development of a wide range of basic and applied science and industrial activities.

Synchrotron light sources are generally 'user facilities'. Scientists from universities and research institutes typically visit synchrotron laboratories for a week or two, two or three times a year, to carry out experiments on the beamline that corresponds to the needs of their work, frequently in collaboration with scientists from other centres/countries, and then return home to analyze the data they have obtained. These scientists bring back scientific expertise and knowledge, which they share with their colleagues and students at home.