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Iran's president has appointed a mathematician as the country's new science minister.

The parliament approved 51-year-old Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi's appointment on 24 August.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described Zahedi as a "brilliant personality" who could translate the science ministry's goals into reality.

According to Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency, on his appointment Zahedi vowed to honour meritocracy in managerial reforms in the ministry.

With a succession of academic degrees in the 1980s and 1990s from Iranian universities, Zahedi became vice-president for academic research and then mathematics professor at the Shahid Bahonar University in Kerman.

He is a member of several international societies of mathematical sciences and reviews articles for international journals. He has written numerous research papers in both pure and applied mathematics.

Iran has the world's highest rate of 'brain drain' (see Iran's scientific brain drain reaching 'critical mass'). But according to a 2004 analysis of scientific papers published from 31 countries, it is the only Islamic country in a list of developing countries publishing the most research.

This is because scientists leaving Iran often stay affiliated with their homeland institutions, listing them as their permanent address, as well as the foreign organisation they work for. So the research papers are counted as Iranian too.

Speaking to SciDev.Net, Abbas Salemi Parizi, head of Zahedi's former mathematics department said he believed the new minister could tackle the numerous challenges facing him.

For example, he says, moving Iran from an economy based on natural resources to a knowledge-based one will demand high-level innovation in areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology.

He said Iran needed policies promoting research, science education and public understanding of science, as well as science and technology parks to encourage private sector investment in science.

Parizi also calls for industry-university research partnerships to convert ideas into new commercial processes, products and technologies.

He says that establishing a good research infrastructure and high-quality research environments would help science progress in Iran and help decrease, and possibly reverse, brain drain.