The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), usually known as the Iran deal or Iran nuclear deal, is a nuclear concurrence signed between Iran and a group of five international superpowers in July 2015. Following this concord, the fortunes of science and research in Iran has become a much-contested topic among the academia.
The agreement put severe limitations on Iran’s nuclear program. According to the terms, Iran has assured that it will decrease its stock of uranium by 98% and maintain its uranium enrichment at 3.67, which is below the enrichment level required for creating a bomb. In exchange, the U.S., the European Union, and the United Nations have agreed to lift almost all economic sanctions on Iran. This has given new flight to the aspirations of Iranian scientists and they are optimistic that the scientific field will be benefitted in many ways. Researchers all over the country are hopeful that after the lifting of sanctions, the opportunities for scientific advancement will increase.
Long ago, Iran was a vital scientific hub at a time when there was lack of cultural advancement in Europe. Persian researchers extensively contributed to astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics. But after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the scientific field changed drastically because of political turbulence. Many intellectuals left the country for a better future. During this time, because of Iran’s growing development toward nuclear weapons, the United States imposed stringent sanctions. In 2002, a secret nuclear facility at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak came to light. After these revelations, the U.N. Security Council tried to negotiate with Iran regarding the suspension of its uranium enrichment activities but woefully did not succeed. As a result, the U.N. Security Council implemented economic sanctions on Iran, which paralyzed Iran’s economy.
The sanctions were implemented to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But they damaged the atmosphere for the scientific community. Because of political conflicts, Iran was forbidden to buy equipment from abroad, subscribe to international science journals, and import fossils. Many Iranian researchers found it taxing to get published in international journals because publishers were afraid to go against the sanctions. Besides, due to economic sanctions, the government stopped investing in science.
Despite these obstacles, science in Iran continued to progress. To reduce dependence on imports, Iranian researchers developed indigenous equipment (such as seismic sensors to detect earthquakes) and even went to the extent of buying the tools from the black market. According to reports, Iranian scientists publish approximately 30,000 international scientific papers every year. And the unique feature of Iran’s science is that that both men and women participate in equal measure. In fact, nearly 70% of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women—a higher percentage than in any other country.
Despite the sanctions and political turbulence, science in Iran has flourished in the last three decades. It has developed incredibly in fields such as seismology and stem cell research. After the lifting of sanctions, Iranian academics are expecting a robust era in the field of scientific knowledge because they will now have access to international collaborations. Besides, the Iranian government is promoting plans to attract Iranian intellectuals working abroad to return to their country by increasing science funding and providing academic freedom. Although the political imbroglio demonstrated that science and international relations are intertwined, the worst seems to be over for scientists in Iran.