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Sander Olson Interviews

Ali Eftekhari

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 technology development?

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 technologies).

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 experiment.

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.
 

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