Iran has made considerable advances in science and technology through education and training, despite international sanctions in almost all aspects of research during the past 30 years. Iran’s university population swelled from 100,000 in 1979 to 2 million in 2006. In recent years, the growth in Iran’s scientific output is reported to be the fastest in the world. Iran has made great strides in different sectors, including aerospace, nuclear science, medical development, as well as stem cell and cloning research.
Throughout the history Persia was always a cradle of science, contributing to medicine, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Trying to revive the golden time of Persian science, Iran’s scientists now are cautiously reaching out to the world. Many individual Iranian scientists, along with the Iranian Academy of Medical Sciences and Academy of Sciences of Iran, are involved in this revival.
Science in ancient Iran (Persia)
Science in Persia evolved in two main phases separated by the arrival and widespread adoption of Islam in the region.
References to scientific subjects such as natural science and mathematics occur in books written in the Pahlavi languages.
Ancient technology in Persia
The Qanat (a water management system used for irrigation) originated in pre-Achaemenid Persia. The oldest and largest known qanat is in the Iranian city of Gonabad, which, after 2,700 years, still provides drinking and agricultural water to nearly 40,000 people.
Persian philosophers and inventors may have created the first batteries (sometimes known as the Baghdad Battery) in the Parthian or Sassanid eras. Some have suggested that the batteries may have been used medicinally. Other scientists believe the batteries were used for electroplating—transferring a thin layer of metal to another metal surface—a technique still used today and the focus of a common classroom experiment.
Windwheels were developed by the Babylonians ca. 1700 BC to pump water for irrigation. In the 7th century, Persian engineers in Greater Iran developed a more advanced wind-power machine, the windmill, building upon the basic model developed by the Babylonians.
The 9th century mathematician Muhammad Ibn Musa-al-Kharazmi created the Logarithm table, developed algebra and expanded upon Persian and Indian arithmetic systems. His writings were translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona under the title: De jebra et almucabola. Robert of Chester also translated it under the title Liber algebras et almucabala. The works of Kharazmi “exercised a profound influence on the development of mathematical thought in the medieval West”.
Other Persian scientists included Abu Abbas Fazl Hatam, the Banu Musa brothers, Farahani, Omar Ibn Farakhan, Abu Zeid Ahmad Ibn Soheil Balkhi (9th century AD), Abul Vafa Bouzjani, Abu Jaafar Khan, Bijan Ibn Rostam Kouhi, Ahmad Ibn Abdul Jalil Qomi, Bu Nasr Araghi, Abu Reyhan Birooni, the noted Iranian poet Hakim Omar Khayyam Neishaburi, Qatan Marvazi, Massoudi Ghaznavi (13th century AD), Khajeh Nassireddin Tusi, and Ghiasseddin Jamshidi Kashani.
The practice and study of medicine in Iran has a long and prolific history. Situated at the crossroads of the East and West, Persia was often involved in developments in ancient Greek and Indian medicine; pre- and post-Islamic Iran have been involved in medicine as well.
For example, the first teaching hospital where medical students methodically practiced on patients under the supervision of physicians was the Academy of Gundishapur in the Persian Empire. Some experts go so far as to claim that: “to a very large extent, the credit for the whole hospital system must be given to Persia”.
The idea of xenotransplantation dates to the days of Achaemenidae (the Achaemenian dynasty), as evidenced by engravings of many mythologic chimeras still present in Persepolis.
Several documents still exist from which the definitions and treatments of the headache in medieval Persia can be ascertained. These documents give detailed and precise clinical information on the different types of headaches. The medieval physicians listed various signs and symptoms, apparent causes, and hygienic and dietary rules for prevention of headaches. The medieval writings are both accurate and vivid, and they provide long lists of substances used in the treatment of headaches. Many of the approaches of physicians in medieval Persia are accepted today; however, still more of them could be of use to modern medicine.
In the 10th century work of Shahnameh, Ferdowsi describes a Caesarean section performed on Rudabeh, during which a special wine agent was prepared by a Zoroastrian priest and used to produce unconsciousness for the operation. Although largely mythical in content, the passage illustrates working knowledge of anesthesia in ancient Persia.
Later in the 10th century, Abu Bakr Muhammad Bin Zakaria Razi is considered the founder of practical physics and the inventor of the special or net weight of matter. His student, Abu Bakr Joveini, wrote the first comprehensive medical book in the Persian language. Razi is also the inventor of alcohol.
After the Islamic conquest of Iran, medicine continued to flourish with the rise of notables such as Rhazes and Haly Abbas, albeit Baghdad was the new cosmopolitan inheritor of Sassanid Jundishapur’s medical academy.
An idea of the number of medical works composed in Persian alone may be gathered from Adolf Fonahn’s Zur Quellenkunde der Persischen Medizin, published in Leipzig in 1910. The author enumerates over 400 works in the Persian language on medicine, excluding authors such as Avicenna, who wrote in Arabic. Author-historians Meyerhof, Casey Wood, and Hirschberg also have recorded the names of at least 80 oculists who contributed treatises on subjects related to ophthalmology from the beginning of 800 AD to the full flowering of Muslim medical literature in 1300 AD.
Aside from the aforementioned, two other medical works attracted great attention in medieval Europe, namely Abu Mansur Muwaffaq’s Materia Medica, written around 950 AD, and the illustrated Anatomy of Mansur ibn Muhammad, written in 1396 AD.
Modern academic medicine began in Iran when Joseph Cochran established a medical college in Urmia in 1878. Cochran is often credited for founding Iran’s “first contemporary medical college”. The website of Urmia University credits Cochran for “lowering the infant mortality rate in the region and for founding one of Iran’s first modern hospitals (Westminster Hospital) in Urmia.
In 1000 AD, Biruni wrote an astronomical encyclopaedia that discussed the possibility that the earth might rotate around the sun. This was before Tycho Brahe drew the first maps of the sky, using stylized animals to depict the constellations.
In the tenth century, the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi cast his eyes upwards to the awning of stars overhead and was the first to record a galaxy outside our own. Gazing at the Andromeda galaxy he called it a “little cloud” – an apt description of the slightly wispy appearance of our galactic neighbor
The Iranian Research Organization for Science and Technology and the National Research Institute for Science Policy come under the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. They are in charge of establishing national research policies.
The government first set its sights on moving from a resource-based economy to one based on knowledge in its 20-year development plan, Vision 2025, adopted in 2005. This transition became a priority after international sanctions were progressively hardened from 2006 onwards and the oil embargo tightened its grip. In February 2014, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei introduced what he called the ‘economy of resistance’, an economic plan advocating innovation and a lesser dependence on imports that reasserted key provisions of Vision 2025
In line with the goals of Vision 2025, policy-makers have made a concerted effort to increase the number of students and academic researchers. To this end, the government raised its commitment to higher education to 1% of GDP in 2006. After peaking at this level, higher education spending stood at 0.86% of GDP in 2015. Higher education spending has resisted better than public expenditure on education overall. The latter peaked at 4.7% of GDP in 2007 before slipping to 2.9% of GDP in 2015. Vision 2025 fixed a target of raising public expenditure on education to 7% of GDP by 2025
As of 2012, Iran had officially 31 science and technology parks nationwide. Furthermore, as of 2014, 36 science and technology parks hosting more than 3,650 companies were operating in Iran. These firms have directly employed more than 24,000 people. According to the Iran Entrepreneurship Association, there are totally 99 parks of science and technology, which operate without official permits. Twenty-one of those parks are located in Tehran and affiliated with University Jihad, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran University, Ministry of Energy (Iran), Ministry of Health and Medical Education, and Amir Kabir University among others. Fars Province, with 8 parks and Razavi Khorasan Province, with 7 parks, are ranked second and third after Tehran respectively. Iran has nearly 3,000 knowledge-based companies in 2016