The Iranian science & technology field, especially as it pertains to research and development (R&D), has been thriving even in the face of sanctions.  Now, with the lifting of sanctions, we can expect increased foreign interest and injections of capital that will further help support and grow this sector. 

Atypically, the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the West have been a major factor in the growth of Iran’s R&D sector.  The UNESCO report “Towards 2030,” published in 2015, states that “[t]he sanctions…have accelerated the shift from a resource-based economy to a knowledge economy by challenging policymakers to look beyond extractive industries to the country’s human capital for wealth creation… between 2006 and 2011 the number of firms declaring R&D activities more than doubled.”

Now, with the easing of sanctions, new investors, clients, and buyers can be found to enter this promising part of the Iranian economy, providing a boost in the form of FDI amid increased demand for Iranian products.  In turn, competition in the world market has also increased as a response to the easing of sanctions, which will lead to a natural increase in R&D efforts.  Indeed, one might go so far as to note that the Iranian scientific community’s capabilities were severely underestimated for a long time. 

Post 1979-revolution, the number of students enrolled in universities has increased by twenty-fold, especially in the STEM concentrations.  It currently counts over two million science and engineering college students.  After the Iraq-Iran War, Iran experienced a significant boost in scientific production, with the fastest rate of growth of any country in the world, according to Science-Metrix report “30 Years in Science: Secular Movements in Knowledge Creation,” published in 2010.  Universities have proved to be one of the biggest instigators for innovation, with an oversight of the latest advances in R&D. 

Examples of Iran’s prominence in the science and technology fields are myriad and clearly show a trend and dedication to innovation that was not quelled by sanctions.  Advances in the medical and biotechnology fields promise exciting results and applications for Iran’s citizens and industries.  For example, Iranian researchers at Babol University of Technology have managed to synthesize a nanostructured membrane that allows for the desalination of seawater.  Not only can this be done more efficiently, but it will also lead to reduced costs.  Addressing another H20-related problem, researchers at the Meteorological Organization of Iran have designed a software system that can predict floods up to five days earlier.  It has been tested thus far on two rivers in western Iran.  On the health front, researchers at Kurdistan University have created a new type of biosensor for prostate cancer.  This biosensor has long-ranging implications as it can measure biological compounds and is applicable among multiple sectors, including environment, agricultural, and industrial sectors. 

Iranian scientists are likewise working hard to tackle vision impairment, with new techniques to repair damage to the retina by creating a type of retinal “scaffold.”  Researchers have created a type of glasses that can detect vision defects to treat disease preventatively.  Notably, information about the type of disease is recorded and transmitted to doctors through social networks—an innovative melding of social and more conventional sciences. 

Creative solutions for industrial and software equipment have also been explored by Iranian researchers and scientists.  According to the aforementioned UNESCO report, Iran ranked seventh worldwide for the volume of scientific papers related to nanotechnology.  At Tehran University, for example, researchers have created a nano-absorbent that can remove uranium from nuclear industry wastewater in an economic and efficient manner.  No small feat, Guilan University researchers have introduced a nano-catalyst that can produce hydrogen gas, thus reducing the need for fossil fuels that are otherwise used in its production.  Continuing the trend in nano-technology, Islamic Azad University has uncovered nano-particles that, when added to antifreeze, improve performance and efficiency, reducing total energy consumption and costs.  On a global scale, a recent report published by the SCImago database has named Iran as first in aerospace engineering in the Middle East and 11th in the world – ranking above Spain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, for example. 

The petrochemical, energy, and oil & gas industries have certainly not been neglected by Iranian scholars.  In promotion of sustainable energy efforts, scientists have created a device to generate electricity and biogas from solar energy.  In addition, researchers at Sharif University of Technology have created solar cells with much lower production costs compared to old cells, thanks to the help of a protein found in jellyfish.  These cells also have a much higher energy conversion efficiency, further adding to their appeal.  Researchers at the same university have also synthesized a nano-catalyst that helps in the desulfurization of crude oil, increasing the efficiency of the process. 

Such discoveries show that Iran has strived to remain at the forefront of technology and science in diverse industries.  Even though Iranian’s scientific community may have been underestimated in the international market place, they have managed to thrive even in the face of sanctions.  Indeed, the sanctions jump-started a shift from resource-based industry to knowledge-based.  The uses for such technologies are wide-ranging and, indeed, their full potential remains to be explored and realized. 

by Mina Djuric Nikolic
Director of Operations - Belgrade
Junior Partner