Sander Olson Interviews
CONDUCTED JANUARY 2006
Dr. Ali Eftekhari is head of the Eftekhari Research Group, a materials and
energy research center based in Tehran, Iran.
Question 1: Tell us about yourself. Did
you really begin college at age 12, and earn a doctorate at 22?
Yes, it seems to be a little strange, but everything was (and of course is)
strange in my life. I found my interest in science and specifically in chemistry
at age eight. Then, I started to study this field of science deeply. After many
unusual examinations, I was allowed to participate in university course of
chemistry in Sharif University of Technology. Those days were golden to me; a
child doing research (basic research studies) in an academic environment. As I
recall, that child had a good background of scientific knowledge and also
brilliant idea for scientific research. But limitations kept that child just in
my biography rather than in the scientific community. Thanks to some great
scientists who assisted me to complete my graduate study to earn my PhD at age
22 under an extraordinary circumstance. After taking this formal step, I was
still that child but with a smaller dream-land.
Question 2: What is the Eftekhari research group?
In spite of good opportunities for working abroad, particularly in United
States, I preferred to return to my country, as it is desire of any scientist.
However, every scientist needs an appropriate support for doing research, and it
was difficult for me to find it my homeland. Finally, I just found an
appropriate home for my works. Thanks to Prof. Moztarzadeh, the President of
Materials and Energy Research Center, who offered everything I needed for
establishing an ideal research group. This research group achieved a superior
position in the country, and because of its achievements, we earned a special
fund of $300,000.00 from the Vice-President. As a research leader I try to make
a scientific environment for the group. In choosing the group members, my
emphasis is on scientific mind rather than scientific background. Now, I can
claim that I have a great research group; and Eftekhari research group is not
just a name but a phenomenon in the scientific community.
Question 3: The Eftekhari research group has done research on carbon
nanotubes. How long has your group been working with nanotubes? How long do you
anticipate before Iran can produce large quantities of nanotubes?
Study of carbon nanotubes is one of my active research interests, and I
attempted to start this project when I joined Materials and Energy Research
Center about two years ago. However, serious works were done when my research
group was formally established one year ago and we have earned appropriate
possibilities for synthesis of carbon nanotubes. During the past year, this
project was accompanied by noticeable achievements. In addition to new methods
we developed for synthesis of carbon nanotubes, now we are in a position to
control morphological structure of carbon nanotubes. Although our preliminary
goal was fundamental studies of carbon nanotubes (including synthesis processes)
and using carbon nanotubes as a mother nanomaterial in our researches, we are
currently able to produce carbon nanotubes for other labs and research groups.
As it was negotiated with the government (Vice-President and Minister of
Science, Research and Technology), we have ability for production of
large-quantities of carbon nanotubes, upon industrial demand for this product.
Question 4: Has your group been able to precisely control the chirality of
the nanotubes that have been produced? Does the Eftekhari research group have a
strategy for modifying the synthesis procedure in order to mass-produce batches
of uniform tubes?
We have good ability to produce different types of carbon nanotubes. In this
direction, we use different methods such as catalytic chemical vapor deposition
(CCVD), arc-discharge, and also novel techniques for synthesis of carbon
nanotubes such as hydrothermal and sonochemical routes. Since synthesis of
carbon nanotubes is not our ultimate goal, and we aim to use our products in
other researches, it is very important for us to produce different morphological
structures. For instance, we synthesized cone-like carbon nanotubes, which their
large orifice guarantees easy diffusion of electroactive species in
electrochemical systems. In our design of a laboratory furnace (fabricated in
our institute), we are able to produce about 100 g of carbon nanotubes per day.
Of course, this quantity is due to high-yield synthesis route we developed.
Anyway, mass-production of uniform tubes is an industrial project which is out
of the strategy of our research group.
Question 5: What about fullerenes?
Fullerene is my childhood dream. When I was a child doing basic research, I
heard about discovery of fullerenes. That time, I have some brilliant idea for
working with fullerenes, but without appropriate possibility to put in test what
were in my mind. And when Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1996 was devoted to this
subject, it was very sad that I was not a part of this subject. Here in the
group we work on fullerenes and particularly C60. Now, I have opportunity to
play with this soccer ball. Fullerene and carbon nanotube are two beloved
sisters of family of carbon materials, but I believe that less attention has
been paid to fullerenes.
Question 6: Tell us about your work with Atomic Force Microscopes (AFMs)
and Scanning Tunneling Microscopes (STMs). Do Iranian researchers have easy
access to this type of equipment?
In my opinion, SPM techniques are essential ones in nanotechnology. They are
very useful for our electrochemical researches as the surface structure plays an
important role. Nevertheless, once again, we attempted to use this
nanotechnological technique in an unusual manner. Since we work on
nanostructured materials, we attempted to monitor nanostructure of a
powder-based sample rather than a solid surface by means of AFM. It was truly a
difficult task and we just did it by some experimental tricks. However, the
results were very interesting and useful. For instance, in a recent paper, we
reported a novel structure of manganese oxide, which was detected in AFM
measurements and both SEM and TEM studies were misleading. As far as I know,
there are some SPM instruments in different universities of Iran, providing
services to the researchers.
Question 7: Is all of the funding for the Eftekhari research group
provided by the Iranian Government? Do private investors fund any Iranian
Yes, Materials and Energy Research Center is a graduate school under supervision
of Ministry of Science, Research and Technology; and all of our funds are
government-based. I did not hear about any noticeable private investment in the
field of nanotechnology (though it may be the case for well-developed
Question 8: How many nanotechnology related projects are you aware of that
exist in Iran? Has the Iranian Government made the development of nanotechnology
a high priority?
There are many nanotechnology projects in the country. A special council has
been established by the government under supervision of the Vice-President to
conduct nanotechnology researches in the country. In this direction, Iranian
Nanotechnology Initiative provides special funds for nanotechnology researches.
Question 9: Does the Eftekhari research group engage in collaborative
projects with other institutions inside and/or outside of Iran?
Yes, we have several joint projects with other research groups all over the
worlds. For instance, we have scientific collaboration with universities from
different countries such as Germany, Canada, New Zealand, etc. We have serious
program for student exchange. We always appreciate scientific collaboration, as
it is a requirement for scientific research.
Question 10: Your group has done research into one-dimensional
nanomaterials, such as nanowires from manganese oxide. What potential
applications do you see for such devices?
I believe that the most important form of nanomaterials is one-dimensional
structures, which includes most of known nanostructures. For instance, manganese
oxide nanowires are potential candidate for the preparation of cathode materials
of lithium batteries. In a novel synthesis we developed, it is possible to
prepare aligned nanowires of manganese oxide just during a simple solid-state
reaction in the absence of any template.
Question 11: Has the Eftekhari research group done any work on
nanolithography, or nanostructured biomaterials?
Yes, we wish to control the electroactive parts of electrode surfaces. This can
assist us to understand electrochemical reactions occurring at electrode
surfaces. Some years ago I worked on surface analysis of dental decay, and based
on experimental evidences I concluded that dental decay may occur at different
scales, and this feature should be taken into account in restorative dentistry
to choose appropriate filling materials. Now, we attempt to control morphology
of nanostructured hydroxyapatite, which the most important biomaterial making
bone and tooth.
Question 12: What about nanopatterning or theoretical nanoscience?
I truly believe in theory, but I think theoretical scientists have led astray,
and this misleading is more important in nanoscience. Theory should be
accompanied by experiments, and merely theoretical works are useless. In our
research group, we make possible theoretical considerations for every experiment
we do. In other words, we always try to find a theoretical reason for performing
an experiment. Contrary to the public belief, theoretical consideration is not
necessary based on mathematical formula, but in my opinion, theoretical
considerations means that we have some idea about what is occurring in our
Question 13: What plans do you have for the Eftekhari research group for
the next ten years? Where do you see the state of nanotechnology in 2015?
In spite of many achievements in nanotechnology, I think we are just at the
first stage of this area of research. During the past two decades different
works have been done on various cases, but we know a little. For instance,
studies of carbon nanotubes are the most active area of research in
nanotechnology and numerous papers have been published, but we know a little
about carbon nanotubes. We expect that current situation will be a guiding start
for future researches.
This interview was conducted by Sander
Olson. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of CRN.
RETURN TO LIST OF