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By Ernie Tretkoff
Iranian physicist Hessamaddin Arfaei delivered the Beller Lecture at the APS April Meeting in Tampa. In addition to his research in string theory, Arfaei has worked hard to establish interaction between Iranian scientists and the international scientific community, and he is continuing to encourage more international collaboration.
Arfaei is a professor of physics at the Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, and an associate director at the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (IPM).
The Beller Lectureship supports a prominent international physicist each year to attend the March or April APS meeting. Arfaei had been invited to deliver the Beller lecture last year, but was unable to attend because the war in Iraq made it difficult for him to travel. This year, he said he had no problems. Because the United States has no embassy in Iran, Arfaei had to travel to Milan to get a visa to come to the meeting, but he said the visa application process went smoothly and he was approved promptly.
Arfaei, a noted string theorist, was probably the only person who traveled from Iran to attend the April Meeting, though he said he met two Iranian students at the meeting who were already in the US. He says he would like to encourage more scientists to travel to each other’s countries to attend conferences.
The APS is now partnering with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences to work to increase scientific cooperation with Iran. While in the US, Arfaei met with the APS, the AAAS, and the NAS to explore ways of increasing scientific cooperation between the US and Iran. These discussions were designed to launch a dialogue and help identify priorities and opportunities for strengthening cooperation and collaboration. Arfaei was also a featured speaker at the 30th annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy in Washington, DC, April 21-22.
Arfaei earned his PhD from UC Berkeley in 1976. He then returned to Iran and has been there since 1979. For several years after the Iranian revolution he was entirely isolated from the international scientific community, he said. But since 1984 things have improved dramatically, and continue to improve.
Though there is still a long way to go, Iranian science is rebuilding, said Arfaei. For instance, just after the revolution Iranian researchers were publishing around 500 scientific papers a year, and the number is now around 3500.
Science education in Iran is quite good, said Arfaei, but as in many developing countries, there is a problem with "brain drain." In fact, he said, most of the talented scientists choose to leave Iran, especially experimentalists who want to work on projects at large facilities that don’t exist in Iran.
Arfaei said it is important to have collaboration between Iranian and American scientists. "You need contact with other people," he said. More joint conferences and other opportunities for contact and collaboration would be a good step, he said.