The news that Iran and Venezuela have signed a nanotechnology cooperation agreement seems to have raised a few eyebrows, which is probably what was intended. Or to put it in the evil dictator language beloved by the press “This news is a thorn in the eye of our enemies. Ha!”
Far from being the creation of a new ‘axis of evil,’ formed with the intention of flooding the United States with malevolent nanobots, it is more a reflection of the lack of options that Iran has when it comes to choosing cooperation partners.
One of the topics debated heavily during my last visit to Tehran was the effect of sanctions on Iranian science. While it access to advanced equipment is embargoes, many Iranian universities have responded by building their own equipment. While this means that advanced semiconductor fabrication tools cannot be used, there are sufficient national suppliers of research tools such as SEMs and AFMs that are perfectly adequate for Iranian nanotech.
An interview with Dr. Abdolreza Simchi of Sharif University published in Scientific American sees a benefit to the sanctions. In much of the world the best researchers pack their bags and head for the top universities, primarily in the US and Europe, which results in a brain drain fir most of the rest of the world. However as this route is not open to Iranian scientists, the talent can be harnessed at home to boost the local economy, or perhaps now Venezuela’s.
While Iranian, and Venezuelan researchers would love to be able to replicate some of the cutting edge work performed at IBM or MIT, much of the nanotechnology work is application focused, and more importantly appropriate for the local economy. It’s easy to get sniffy about levels of science in Iran if you compare it with the US, but most of the world is in a different league, looking to use nanotechnology to boost fairly basic extractive industries or reduce food spoilage, and in that respect Iran is doing pretty well.