Sci & Tech

New Frontiers of Science to Open

New Frontiers  of Science to OpenNew Frontiers  of Science to Open

The Iran nuclear deal will usher in a new era in science by lifting sanctions and encouraging further research in the Islamic Republic.

Sanctions aimed at curbing Iran's civilian nuclear program in recent years have also banned scientists from importing fossils, downloading software, subscribing to international scientific journals and importing much-needed equipment, the US journal Science wrote in a special issue on the topic.

Still, science has managed to thrive in Iran, according to Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education in New York.

"We got a pretty consistent message that their science is alive and well," Goodman, who traveled to Iran earlier this year with a group of US university officials looking for ways to collaborate with Iranian scientists, was quoted as saying.

Minister of Science, Research and Technology Mohammad Farhadi, said in an accompanying essay that sanctions "pushed its science, industry and service sectors to cooperate in new and fruitful ways, and also forced scientists to work more creatively and promote a knowledge-based economy for the first time in Iran's history".

"Now, the Islamic Republic is looking forward to more international partnerships and research," he said.

"We invite scientists from all over the world to initiate a collaborative program with our scientists. Iran is ready."

Relief from economic sanctions is expected by early 2016.

  Astronomy, Synchotron

Plans to build a world-class astronomy observatory have pressed on, and next year construction is set to begin on the $30 million Iranian National Observatory, a 3.4-meter optical telescope that will study exoplanets and gamma ray bursts, hunt for dark matter and probe galaxy formation.

Piero Salinari of the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory in Florence, Italy, said that when completed in four or five years, it could be the best general-purpose telescope in the region. Another big project is the construction, set to begin in 2018, of "Iran's first synchrotron, a source of brilliant x-ray light for studies of everything from biological molecules to advanced materials," said the report.

"The $300 million Iranian Light Source Facility is the country's biggest basic science project ever—and expectations are high inside and outside the Islamic Republic."

David Attwood, an applied physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, who visited the ILSF's office in Tehran last year, said the synchrotron "will offer Iran the potential to do world-class science".

Iran has also forged ahead in stem cell research, thanks to a 2002 fatwa from Iran's Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei declaring such research permissible under Islamic law, though reproductive cloning in humans remains out of bounds, the journal reported.

"Surprisingly, Iran has some of the most liberal laws on stem cell research in the world," said Ali Brivanlou, the Iranian-born head of the laboratory of molecular embryology at The Rockefeller University in New York City.

The Royan Institute in Tehran, founded to help infertile Iranians, "has since become a heavyweight in stem cell research, publishing hundreds of papers and scoring successes in animal cloning despite Iran's isolation," the journal said.

  New Research Projects

As part of the nuclear agreement, the Fordow uranium enrichment facility will be converted into an international research center where experts will work on projects involving fusion, astrophysics and radiomedicine.

Government spending on science in Iran is far less than what the United States spends—about $30 billion annually through the US National Institutes of Health.

The Iranian government's budget target for science spending is 3% of gross domestic product, but "the reality is closer to 0.5%, which in 2014 amounted to $1.75 billion," according to Vahid Ahmadi, Iran's deputy science minister.

Ahmadi, nevertheless, expressed hope for the future.

"It's a new era for science in Iran," Ahmadi said, "We're entering the post-sanctions era."