Iran's Nanotech Research on the Rise
Sharif University in Tehran is home to much of Iran's nanotechnology research. Iran graduates 800 nanotechnology doctorates a year.
CREDIT: Ehsan on Flickr
While the U.S., the European Union and others focus on what Iranian nuclear scientists are doing, there's another field of research on the rise in the troubled Middle Eastern nation. Iran has apparently been working hard at developing its nanotechnology research programs. They've held four annual nanotechnology research festivals so far. The secretary of Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council said they rank No. 12 in the world in nanotechnology production, based on the number of publications, Fars News Agency reported in October. They're even teaching some basics to schoolchildren and distributing articles to their public, according to an interview with researcher Abdolreza Simchi, posted on Scientific American's Guest Blog.
Iran is interested in nanotech for the same reasons everyone else is, Simchi said—for its use in diagnosing and treating cancer, engineering tissue, energy capture in solar panels and hydrogen storage in greener cars. One visitor to Iran Nano 2011 found homegrown, nano-based fertilizers, pesticides and building material on display, but no semiconductors or medical devices.
The political situation puts research in Iran under special pressure. Because of international sanctions, Iranian scientists can't order nanotech tools and microscopes from the usual American or Japanese suppliers. Iran Nano 2011 showed homemade kits with outmoded displays and measuring instruments, said Tim Harper, a former nanotechnology instrument engineer, on his website, Cientifica. "Does that stop an AFM [atomic force microscope] from producing decent results though? Probably not," he wrote.
At the same time, sanctions keep a "brain drain" of Iranian nano experts from leaving for the U.S. or Europe, said Simchi, who has been refused visas to visit U.S. universities several times. Harper noted that 800 Iranians graduate with doctoral degrees in nanotechnology every year.
U.S. scientists also try to maintain relationships with their Iranian counterparts in spite of—and to help improve—their countries' diplomatic relationships. Since 2000, scientists from U.S. and Iranian science academies have visited each other for consulting and workshops, American Association for the Advancement of Science senior adviser Norman Neureiter explained to InnovationNewsDaily in April.
IEEE Spectrum's Nanoclast blog was skeptical of Iran's progress in nano research and Harper wrote last November, "I don’t think that Iran will be challenging the U.S. and Germany as the best places to commercialise nanotechnologies anytime soon." Nevertheless, nanotechnology in Iran appears to be in "rude health," said Harper, with "plenty of funding, political support at high level and most importantly, plenty of smart people involved."