Iran Makes the Sciences A Part of Its Revolution


by Kooshan

By Thomas Erdbrink

Washington Post Foreign Service

Friday, June 6, 2008; Page A01

TEHRAN -- As Burton Richter, an American Nobel laureate in physics, entered the main auditorium of Tehran's prestigious Sharif University, hundreds of students rose to give him a loud and lengthy ovation. But Richter, wearing a white suit and leaning on a cane, said he was the one who should be awed.

"The students here are very impressive," Richter said, lauding the high level of education at Sharif. "I expect to hear a lot more from you all in the future."

Burton Richter, right, an American Nobel laureate in physics who spoke at Sharif University in Tehran, called the students there "very impressive." (By Newsha Tavakolian -- Polaris)

The students, young men and women with laptops and smart briefcases, giggled in their seats. A woman took pictures of the Stanford professor emeritus, whose visit last month was part of a privately funded academic program run by the National Academies of the United States and universities in Iran.

"Mr. Richter is an example for us," explained Ismael Hosseini, a 23-year-old electrical engineering student who had managed to get a seat near the stage. "But soon I will be able to listen to an Iranian scientist who has received a Nobel Prize for his or her work," he said. "We are all studying and researching hard to receive this honor."

Iran's determination to develop what it says is a nuclear energy program is part of a broader effort to promote technological self-sufficiency and to see Iran recognized as one of the world's most advanced nations. The country's leaders, who three decades ago wrested the government away from a ruler they saw as overly dependent on the West, invest heavily in scientific and industrial achievement, but critics say government backing is sometimes erratic, leaving Iran's technological promise unfulfilled.

Still, Iranian scientists claim breakthroughs in nanotechnology, biological researchers are pushing the boundaries of stem cell research and the country's car industry produces more cars than anywhere else in the region.

"Iran wants to join the group of countries that want to know about the biggest things, like space," Richter said to the students during his speech at Sharif University, which draws many of the country's best students. Every year, 1.5 million young Iranians take a national university entrance exam, or "concours." Of the 500,000 who pass and are entitled to free higher education, only the top 800 can attend Sharif, considered Iran's MIT.

At Sharif, students work in fields including aerospace and nanotechnology. While some end up advancing Iran's nuclear program or finding work in other technological fields in Iran, many, especially PhD candidates, are lured by employers or universities in Australia, Canada and the United States.

"Our visitors are flabbergasted when they come to our modern laboratories and see women PhD students. Often they had a completely different image of Iran, not as an academic country," said Abdolhassan Vafai, a professor at Sharif. "Here, we educate our students to solve problems that affect all humanity, like hunger, global warming and water shortages."

But in Iran, scientists are also expected to serve ideological goals. Iran's leaders hold up their inventions as proof that the country's 1979 revolution has made it independent and self-sufficient.

When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened Iran's first space center in February, he issued a launch order sending a test missile into space and proclaimed that "no power can overcome Iran's will."

Iran hopes to launch its second satellite -- the first was launched commercially by a Russian company -- within weeks, using a locally made rocket. Iran's advances in this field cannot be independently verified.


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Very impressive!

by Anonymouss (not verified) on

Dr. Richter may very well have been persuaded by group of Iranian students who were accepted few yeards ago for higher education with full grant at Stanford. They made news since they were the only bunch to be granted to pursue education at Stanford from a foreign country. They were graduates from SHarif University.


Proud to hear news like

by Damade shah (not verified) on

Proud to hear news like this. Iranians prove that they CAN forge ahead no matter where in the globe they are;
I'm surprised to see that some people are binded by their hatred towards IRI to let down their own people. Open up your eyes and see the reality. It will give you peace of mind. Nobody says it's all perfect!


Yes, according to this

by hahaha (not verified) on

Yes, according to this report, Iran is a highly industrialized and technologically advanced country that has the highest number of brain drain in the world...Oxymoronic isn't it?? I think this is part of an effort by the realists (Foreign and domesticOil Mafia) to make Iran look like a normal country so they can steal Iran's riches along with their puppet Islamist mullahs for a while longer...


Good to hear

by Abarmard on

Makes me happy to hear this news. Thanks



by jamshid on

Laughing outloud!! What a load of bullshit! I admit I needed the laugh though!

"nanotechnology"? Your piece reminds me of the son of one of my relatives. He plays a lot with magnifiying glasses. He prefers to call this "nanotechnology research."

"technological self-suffciency"??? Thanks to the IRI, Iran can't even build its own cars 100% domestically. All major parts are imported.

The IRI has set back Iran's advancement in science and technology. It has oppressed and wasted all its great potential. Iran keeps breaking its own record in brain drain (faraareh maghzha). And then an idiot comes along and write a piece like this.

Imagine what Iran would have been today without the IRI and instead with a responsible secular government, be it Mosadeghi, or Pahlavi, or Bakhtiari.