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Gordon Conway, an agricultural ecologist who steps down this month as president of the Rockefeller Foundation, has been appointed the first chief scientific advisor to the UK's Department for International Development (DFID).

His appointment follows recent criticism that DFID lacks an adequate scientific perspective in its policies, and the new position is being widely seen as central to reversing this (see UK to appoint 'chief development scientist').

Conway, who is also a former vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, United Kingdom, has spent most of his career working on development issues. He has lived and worked in Egypt, India, Lebanon, Malaysia and Thailand among other countries.

His role at DFID will be to identify areas where science and technology can be applied to poverty reduction and improvements in health, food security, and other aspects of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

He will also be expected to advise DFID on how its staff can access and understand science and technology, and to promote ways for DFID and other government departments to make greater use of science to reduce global poverty.

"I am very much looking forward to joining DFID," said Conway in a statement released by the department. "The exciting challenge at DFID will be trying to put research and development into practice."

He added that significant progress would be made in reducing poverty, hunger and disease only "if natural and social scientists work closely together".

Conway, who spent seven years as president of the Rockefeller Foundation, will take up the part-time position next month. He has also been appointed to a part-time position as professor of international development at London's Imperial College.