“By the mid-1970s it [Iran] had become a showcase of development among the Third World countries, boasting one of the highest rates of economic growth and a superior record of social services. It had developed the critical mass of educated people needed for takeoff in science and technology. It was also making steady progress in fields ranging from women’s rights and environmental protection to intercultural and cross-cultural communication to literacy and lifelong education, among others. As a result of these and other changes the country was a “brain-gainer” in 1975, attracting educated workers to its growing economy, a situation then unprecedented in the Third World. The new Islamic regime . . . turned the brain gain into brain drain.”—Gholam Reza Afkhami, The Life and Times of the Shah
Astrophysicist Niayesh Afshordi is a native of and grew up in post-revolutionary Iran. In our conversation that follows about the physics of the early universe, Afshordi also comments on post-revolutionary Iran’s brain drain. His own scientific career is a case in point.
Niayesh Afshordi graduated in 1999 at the top of his class with a BA in physics from Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology. During his undergraduate years he was a gold and silver medalist in national and international physics Olympiads. After graduation he promptly left Iran for more opportunity in the West and postgraduate studies at Brown University, receiving his PhD in astrophysics in 2004 from Princeton University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Institute for Theory and Computation. Afshordi now teaches at Canada’s Perimeter Institute—one of the world’s leading theoretical physics centers—as well as at University of Waterloo, considered the MIT of Canada.
But it hasn’t been easy for Afshordi outside Iran either, even as a distinguished scientist. Afshordi says although he doesn’t have as many immigration problems now, it has been difficult for him when applying for visas to go anywhere—to international scientific conferences, to visit national labs, even to visit the US where he received his PhD. He says he knows of many Iranian academics here in the West who have “those sorts of problems.”
Some of Niayesh Afshordi’s scientific awards include: Buchalter Cosmology Prize (2015, with Elliot Nelson); Professor M.K. Vainu Bappu Gold Medal (from the Astronomical Society of India, 2008, and in 2011 jointly with Nissim Kanekar); 1st Place, National Collegiate Physics Olympiad (1999, Iran); Silver Medal, 27th International Physics Olympiad (1996, Norway); Gold Medal, 8th National Physics Olympiad (1995, Iran) (partial list).
Aside from his current positions at Perimeter and Waterloo, Afshordi has taught at Guelph-Waterloo Physics Institute, and at Princeton, Brown, and Sharif universities, among others. He been a guest lecturer at Harvard University and at the University of Waterloo.
His research focus is astrophysics, cosmology and fundamental physics. Since there has been considerable media spin that our universe is a vast hologram, citing a study (still ongoing) by Afshordi, and Kostas Skenderis and colleagues at the University of Southampton, I asked Niayesh Afshordi if he would give me his personal perspective about the evidence.