I imagine that if you want to send shivers down the spine of a US diplomat, you would simply mention either Venezuela or Iran.
In case you missed the last decade, the bellicose rhetoric that goes on between the US and both Venezuela and Iran seems to get periodically ratcheted up. Last week may have been no exception, but with a bit of a new wrinkle.
If perhaps your role in the US government is to oversee the development of nanotechnology, then you may have received a panicked call from someone in the State Department last week asking how the US is doing in the field, after it was announced that Venezuela and Iran would expand their cooperation in nanotechnology.
In addition to flaunting their capabilities in uranium enrichment, Iran has been promoting its capabilities in nanotechnology of late, and as it turns out they are just as capable as Western countries in over-hyping their capabilities.
While TNTLog may have deemed Iran’s nanotechnology capabilities that of a “world-class player", I certainly have my doubts. In fact Iran’s nanotech capabilities only appear impressive if you add a very strong qualifier: “considering”.
Yes, considering the years of sanctions and the isolation of Iranian scientists from the rest of the world, it is indeed impressive that they have managed much of a nanotechnology initiative at all.
But outside of this recent announcement, I admit to not having heard one word about nanotechnology in Venezuela. Certainly Venezuela with its recent oil riches fits the profile of a government that can pursue any line of research it wishes without much concern about what its population would like.
After doing a little background research on this story, it seems the Venezuelan and Iranian leaders initially forged this nanotechnology agreement last year, at which time the Venezuelans acknowledged that they didn’t have much of background in the field.
"We travelled to Iran to visit this festival [Nanotechnology Festival in Iran on the 25-29 October 2010] and sign MoUs of cooperation within the scope of nanotechnology study affairs because Venezuela is at the preliminary stages in nanotechnology and the researches of Iranian experts could be useful in helping Venezuela to develop nanotechnology", said Guillermo Barrerto the CEO of Science and Technology Center at Venezuelan Ministry of Science, according to the Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council press release on the MoU with Venezuela.
You have to feel a bit of sympathy for Venezuela in that they are newbies to the field and they are relying on a country whose developments in nanotechnology are only impressive when one adds the qualifier: considering. It would seem for both countries, it's not a relationship that is going to do much to further either one in their nanotechnology research.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.