Nano in Iran

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Despite years of war and sanctions, Iran is one of the leading countries, ranked the eighth, in the world in nanotechnology. Iran’s latest nano advances are put to display in this film.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

On screen: The imposition of political and economic blockade on Iran began in 1980. The blockade becamemore and more severe but all in vain. Iran has managed to survive the blockade for more than three decades.

Narration: A few decades ago, nations were either with or against the West. In the late 1970s, Iran was on the cusp of a revolution and the whole world was looking at the country with searching eyes to see if the nation’s efforts for national sovereignty would pay off. Iran’s resistance was in line with anti-Western policies;the question was if the economic sanctions on Iran could hamper the country’s economic and industrial development; or on the contrary, whether those sanctions would galvanize the nation into action and union so as to lay the foundation of an independent economy.

Against such a backdrop, I decided to make a trip to Iran to find an answer for the above questions; to gauge the effects of Western sanctions on Iran, its economy and its people over the past three decades and since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Hi there. Today, nanotechnology is among the most important sciences in the world. Since the time scientists took atoms to their laboratories for further analysis, they have come across astonishing results. One of them is the advent of nanotechnology. It might be interesting to know that Iran stands eighths in nanotechnology in the world. Today, I’m going to visit one of the most important nano-labs in Tehran where I have an appointment with Doctor Sarkar. He has more on this modern technology and science. Stay with us.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Thank you very much for accepting our invitation! What is nanotechnology?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Saeed Sarkar, Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council: “In the name of God. Let’s begin with this. Look, one nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or ten to the power of -9 of a meter. Matters have special physical and chemical characteristics with dimensions of about 1-100 nanometers.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Here are some drugs made with nanotechnology. For example, this one is a medicine used for treating cutaneous leishmaniasis or tropical sore. It is a skin infection transmitted by a mosquito. This medicine can cure this skin disease which has affected many worldwide.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “When did nanotechnology come to Iran and how did you begin it?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Saeed Sarkar, Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council: “It was in the year 2000. Back then, we were monitoring scientific activities in developed countries when we realized that some like the United States of America, Japan and Germany had been working on a cutting-edge technology called nanotechnology. After some more research we sent a report to Mr. President and it was then that nanotechnology came high on the country’s agenda. In other words, we got involved in this new technology on time. The Islamic Republic of Iran didn’t waste one or two decades before grasping the significance of this branch of technology.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “How does Iran stand in relation to the neighboring countries and Muslim countries in this regard?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Saeed Sarkar, Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council: “When we began the nanotechnology project, we had a limited number of experts in this field. Back then in 2000, Iran had just eight scientific articles published in international journals on nanotechnology and the country was ranked 59th in the world. Today, Iran is ranked eighth in the world in terms of publishing articles in international journals. That is, it is among the eight top countries in the world. If once we had just eight published articles in a year, now on average we are publishing ten articles a day. Last year, Iranian experts and scientists published more than 3,600 articles on nanotechnology in international journals.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Why are some countries reluctant to help Iran?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Saeed Sarkar, Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council: “Today, the war in the world is the war between markets or on markets. It’s an economic war, if you like. And economy is now based on technology and innovation. In one classification, there are some countries with their economy based on raw materials; in other words, they are resource-based. Iran has been classified in this category. These countries have to sell their raw materials so as to be fed.”

Narration: According to Dr. Sarkar, there are, on the other hand, some countries with advanced technology. Their economy is usually based on technology and innovation and while not many in number, these countries have a monopoly on generating knowledge. They don’t allow other countries - as far as they can - to have access to their technology. Dr. Sarkar added that if Western countries with developed technology were willing enough to help and cooperate with developing countries in economic and scientific areas, there would be no poor, undeveloped country throughout the world. But the relations between countries are not always like what we want or desire.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Saeed Sarkar, Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council: “Perhaps, there are many who don’t like Iran to develop and above that to be a role model for other countries.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Do you really know what cancer is? As you know, there are many people around the world who are suffering from it. I wish them health and happiness. Now, I’m going to show you this medicine which Dr. Rezayat talked about. This medicine has been made with the help of nanotechnology and is different in this regard from its chemical counterparts. It only kills cancer cells without affecting others. This is the great merit of this nano-drug.”

Narration: This is Iran International Exhibitions Co. When you walk here, going from one booth to another, it’s difficult to imagine that you are in country surrounded by economic sanctions for more than three decades. All of a sudden, a booth catches my eye. I’m heading for it to meet and talk with the person who is sitting there. Perhaps, he can help me find what I’m looking for.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Abbas Shahmoradi, CEO at Ara Research: “The first machine we made was the “atomic force microscope” which is more known as AFM. This atomic force microscope provides higher resolution than optical microscopes.”

Narration: Dr. Shahmoradi, is the CEO of Ara Pazhouhesh Company, a manufacturer of the atomic force microscope. He told us that the economic sanctions imposed on Iran made things very difficult for them to obtain the know-how needed to make the microscope, which in turn, was indispensible in nanotechnology. However, they managed to make the microscope inside the country, despite all problems. This success alone helped Iranian scientists enhance the level of nanotechnology in the country.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Abbas Shahmoradi, CEO at Ara Research: “It took us ten years to make the microscope. It was a very complicated task. The microscope is highly sophisticated and making it demands a high level of technology. Currently, there are only six countries in the world that can make this microscope; The United States of America, Russia, England, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark. I daresay that we are the only country in Asia that is able to make this microscope.”

Narration: I asked Dr. Shahmoradi about the Western sanctions on Iran and their ramifications on the project of making this high-tech microscope.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Abbas Shahmoradi, CEO at Ara Research: “You know, under sanctions you have difficulty both as a buyer and a seller. If I like the sanctions to be lifted that’s because I want to have freedom in selling our products to Western and Asian countries. I’m sure that this will be good for them as well because their research and academic centers can have this microscope at a lower price. Moreover, our products are of premium quality and we have proved this in reality.”

Narration: The answers Dr. Shahabadi gave me were imbued with determination, dignity, and national pride. You could see on his face, traces of diligence and hard work while his voice was brimming with energy and hope for a technological progress.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “In this booth, there is a scale model of a drone; its surface is covered with nano-particles in a way that can avoid radar detection. This kind of drone is of great importance for Iran’s defensive system.”

Narration: The more I was in the exhibition, the more I became sure that what has been told about Iran as country paralyzed with crippling sanctions was just a campaign run by western media to downplay the country’s achievements.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Dr., what is nanomedicine? And what changes has this branch brought about?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Mehdi Rezayat, Pharmacologist: “In simple terms, nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology. Given the fact that public health is of great importance, nanotechnology has focused part of its attention on this field. It is sometimes called medical nanotechnology.”

Narration: Dr. Mehdi Rezayat explained that nanotechnology has directly increased the quality of other industries while decreasing production costs. It’s hoped that Iran’s striking progress in nanotechnology will have direct positive impact on its industries. The country’s achievements in this field can improve and develop its main industries which in turn can contribute to its economic prosperity and public welfare. Dr. Rezayat added that nanomedicine provides physicians and experts with more efficient ways in diagnosing and treating diseases.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “There are millions of people in Iran and around the world who are suffering from different kinds of cancers. What can you do in treating them, given the fact that you have a good knowledge of nanomedicine?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Mehdi Rezayat, Pharmacologist: “Perhaps, the most important arena that nanomedicine can enter is in treating cancers. At this point in time, in Iran and some other countries around the world, experts are trying to find some drugs with this ability to kill only cancer cells and not other cells. They are commonly referred to as target-specific drugs or nano-drug delivery. I’m happy to say that not only among the Muslim countries but also among the regional countries, Iran is the only country that is able to make anti-cancer nano-drugs. Now these drugs have come onto the market. They have proved to be very efficient. Besides making these anti-cancer drugs, we would like to solve problems specifically related to our own country. Take this as an example: there is a disease in Iran and some other countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India as well as some countries in Latin America which is called coetaneous leishmaniasis. There are a large number of people, perhaps about tens of millions of people in the mentioned countries who are prone to this disease which is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. The disease shows itself as a skin infection that can last for a long time. Fortunately, Iran has managed to make a drug that can almost completely cure this disease. That’s while, no efficient drug is being made for treating this skin disease in other parts of the world.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration: It’s true that any nation blooms just under some specific circumstances that cannot be applicable to other nations. However, Iran’s success in nanotechnology which has been achieved through the unity between the government and the people can serve as a role model for other nations that strive to obtain independence, development, self-sufficiency, and public welfare.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Thank you very much for taking your time.”

Narration: Nowadays, nanotechnology is heavily used in the detergent industry. It has brought about revolutionary changes in making detergents that play an important role in providing us with sanitary conditions. In fact, after medicine, the detergent industry benefits most from this cutting-edge technology. Mr. Saeed Mazaheri is the head of Fadak Group, the only center in the Middle East that provides raw materials such as nano-silica, sodium silicate, aluminum etc.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Did you accept the position just out of your passion for nanotechnology or else? Was it for economic reasons?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fadak Advanced Technology Complex: “The investment we made is very risky but since I had seen many good activities in this field and since we have the raw materials inside the country I thought that we could have a better performance in comparison to European and Asian companies, therefore we entered this field. As you know, some economic investments are short-term and we could invest in short-term projects in order to reap the benefits in a short period of time. But we were not interested in short-termism.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “Innovation is always accompanied with difficulty. What did you face in this regard?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fadak Advanced Technology Complex: “Look, sanctions caused a lot of problems for us because we couldn’t procure some equipment and machineries we needed inside the country. We imported parts of the machineries but that was not enough. But thank God, our own experts managed to manufacture a bulk of what we needed, of equipment and machineries.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “This workshop uses nanotechnology for making a kind of powder which is used in detergents. Mr. Hossein Fakhkhari has more on this issue. He has won the best production and innovation prize in Iran. He is also a member of the Innovators Society.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_24:18

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Hossein Fakhkhari, CEO at Fadak Group: “Our company began its activity in producing complicated chemical materials in 2005. Our mission statement is producing materials which are mainly imported. Despite the fact that the raw materials are in abundance at home, they are imported in large volumes. We have tried to take steps on the country’s self-sufficiency path. Fabric softener is one product that we felt our detergent industry needed most and had difficulty in obtaining them due to sanctions. It is used in detergents. For the reason I just mentioned, our detergent industry was deprived of this material. A German company was at the forefront of producing fabric softener. It’s interesting to know that the raw material for this kind of product is scarcely available in Europe.”

Narration: Mr. Fakhkhari continued that after three years of hard work and research they managed to produce a fabric softener known as “Soft Star” which is used in detergents. The raw materials were all taken from Iran’s resources. After being extracted, the raw materials are broken into pieces and then turned into powder with special machines in the factory. Then some certain materials are added to the powder before being sent to reactors. After that, some other things are added and in the end the soft star is produced. The final product is exclusively made by this Iranian company. Mr. Fakhkhari also explained about the reactors installed inside the factory.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Hossein Fakhkhari, CEO at Fadak Group: “We did some research and purchased a sample from abroad. It was not an easy job. Then, our engineers managed to make it inside the country through reverse engineering. Now, we have the technology and we can make the reactors inside the country as many as we want. Moreover, the big advantage of these reactors in comparison to their foreign versions is that they have lower energy consumption.”

Narration: One of the material’s characteristic on which Iranian engineers put more emphasis is its new color which is like the one made in the leading countries. Mr. Fakhkhari added that the whitening power of the detergent and its likeness to European products have made it qualified enough to go onto the international market.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Nour al- Hoda Bahri, Syrian Student: “The workshop is very simple and it’s very interesting for me to know how you can produce such a complicated product in such a simple place.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Hossein Fakhkhari, CEO at Fadak Group: “In my opinion, this has been one of the main innovations of our group; that we opened this factory despite all the problems we faced and only with reliance on our own experts. There is no doubt that other detergent factories in the US, Germany and Italia – three countries with the license– look more sophisticated but as I said our innovation lies in the fact that despite all economic problems, sanctions included, we have managed to make a product that is comparable in quality with its foreign counterparts. At the moment, we are marketing our product in Europe so as to sell it there. I would like to sum up all our activities by quoting this sentence from the Prophet of Islam who said, “If knowledge were hanging at Pleiades, some men from Persia would reach it.” I would like to say that despite all the problems mentioned, Iranian young people are determined enough to show the world that what the Prophet said about them is true.”


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