Iran, Hub of Nanotechnology in Islamic World

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Mohammad Davoud Mohammadi

What is nanotechnology?

Molecular nanotechnology is the name of a new production technology. As the name denotes, it means when we make things out of atoms by carefully rearranging those atoms.

Nano substances are those which, at least, in one dimension measure about a few nanometers. They are generally divided into nanoparticles and nanostructures (or nano-crystals).

A nanoparticle is a particle measuring 1-100 nanometers. Nanoparticles are made of many things the most common of which is ceramic nanoparticles.

Nanotechnology is among the latest scientific achievements used to promote life and produce less expensive products. Nanotechnology is the art and science of rearranging atoms to make materials, tools, and useful systems at a scale of one-billionth of a meter.

In fact, nanotechnology would allow us to manufacture and design materials with new properties and applications.

This technology gives us things with new properties or makes them through alternative ways.

Iran’s standing in nanotechnology

In terms of nanotechnology, Iran ranks the second among Muslim countries and the 38th in the world. Due to outlooks delineated for this technology, there is hope that the country’s global standing would be soon one-digit while standing on top of Muslim countries.

Up to now, about 90 master’s theses, 19 doctorate dissertations, 40 academic research projects, and 30 industrial research projects have been compiled and carried out on nanotechnology in Iran.

Nano activities started in early 2001. Up to 2003, most activities were coordinated through the Technology Cooperation Bureau of Presidential Office while nano committees had been established by the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, the Ministry of Industries and Mines, the Ministry of Agricultural Jihad, and the Ministry of Health and Medical Education.

Since statesmen were giving priority to this technology, in September 2003, the then president ordered a special workgroup to be established for large-scale management of nano activities. The workgroup was called “Special Headquarters for Development of Nanotechnology” and comprised representatives from six ministries, five specialists and first vice president as head of the headquarters.

The most important task of the headquarters was to compile a 10-year plan for the country including a short-term two-year plan, a medium-term three-year plan, and a long-term five-year plan. In the second phase, the headquarters launched four short-term infrastructural plans.

Another activity of the headquarters was to establish nanotechnology laboratories to solve problems faced by specialists and 40 powerful laboratories were established in nine provinces and 10 cities.

Iran’s nanotechnology achievements compared to the world

Between 1999 and 2001, Iran presented 44 papers in ISI, ranking 53rd in the world. The ranking improved to 43rd in 2004 by 53 papers. Iran also had 125 papers in ISI in 2005, ranking the 36th and standing above Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Norway. An improved ranking of 17 was proof to Iran’s scientific growth in this field. Therefore, we hope to catch up with advanced countries in the field of wealth generation and creation of added value which are the main goals of development of this industry.

Iran is ranking first in Middle East and second, after Turkey, in the Islamic world in terms of nanotechnology and stands higher than Malaysia, Egypt and Tunisia.

Production, commercialization, and products of nanotechnology

Helped by its young and committed specialists, Iran has broken new grounds in nanotechnology producing nano-powders and carbon nano-tubes, using nanoparticles in making artificial blood vessels, producing complement oil, producing nano-composites, producing magnetic materials and fluids, STM machine as well as nano-bacterial substances. For the first time in the world, they have used nanotechnology to convert heavy crude oil to light crude which has been a great achievement.

As for production of nano fuel additives to reduce fuel consumption, Iranian specialists have been also quiet successful.

Nanotechnology in medicine

New achievements provide new approaches to production of needed products in all fields of science.

Nanotechnology is now used in medicine, pharmaceutics, genetic engineering, military industries, electronics, automotive industries, and even cosmetics. Biocompatible materials owe their development to nanotechnology. In late 1960s, there was growing interest in using ceramics in engineering and medicine. Between 1970s and 1980s, slow progress was made in this field, but great innovations have been made since that time.

Although our country paid belated attention to nanotechnology, it has had great achievements in the field. Iranian researchers have produced artificial blood vessels using nano-fibers.

Artificial vessels

Tissue engineering technology has been following a new technology during the past 20 years which is known as in vivo production of natural tissues using a person’s own cells.

Iranian scientists, for the first time, have produced a unique type of artificial vessels using nanotechnology.

The first sample of such vessels was grafted into a sheep about a year ago and according to the latest echocardiographic results, it is functioning properly.

To produce artificial vessels using tissue engineering technique, hybrid vessels with a diameter of 2.1-5 mm comprising three natural and synthetic polymers in two layers of nanostructure were made at laboratory. Cells were put on them and generated natural vessels in subsequent stages.

The vessels make it possible for endothelial cells lining inside the vessel wall to be cultured along interior surface of the structure while muscle cells are cultured outside that structure.

The vessels were first grafted into a sheep in a place where blood pressure was high.

Tests on animal models in the main artery of the sheep’s neck showed that the vessels enjoyed special mechanical properties such as high elasticity and were also good in terms of physical, chemical, biological, and morphological properties.

At present, special bioreactors carry out operations related to culturing endothelial cells inside artificial vessels and culturing muscle cells on the outer side of those vessels.

Manufacturing STM

STM has been manufactured in Iran under the trademark “Nama (View)” and mass production has already started. The machine is a scanning tunnel microscope and has been totally made by an Iranian team as an example of localization of laboratory equipment technology.

The microscope is capable of presenting two-dimensional and 3-D pictures on the scale of nanometer and is capable of making images of all nanostructures, antibodies, proteins, and DNA molecules. It is unique in terms of some specifications.

The microscope is capable of making images measuring from one nanometer to 8 microns and is, thus, one of a kind. Its tip can be automatically regulated up to a nanometer of the sample while in foreign equipment, the tip should be manually regulated and this may harm the sample.

This equipment has been produced on commercial scale through the support of nanotechnology laboratory network. Its test sample was made in 2006 and after problems were corrected, it was mass produced in 2007 at a price about one-third of the foreign counterpart. Now Iran is among few countries which can produce scanning tunnel microscope (STM).

STM is among the most advanced equipment used in nanotechnology research.


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