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Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri
Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri

Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri

Dr. Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri is an astronomer (première classe) at Paris Observatory in France. His main field of research is the formation and evolution of massive stars. These hot, luminous stars, which have masses over 10 times that of our Sun, include the O-type stars, Wolf-Rayet stars, and the so-called transition objects (Ofpe/WN9, LBV, B[e], etc.). The formation process is still a largely unsolved problem. Since they evolve so rapidly, it is necessary to study them at their earliest phases when they are still within their enshrouding material.

Dr. Heydari-Malayeri started his search for the youngest massive stars in the Magellanic Clouds, our neighboring galaxies, almost two decades ago, by conducting ground-based observations at the European Southern Observatory. In 1982, this led him to the discovery of a distinct and very rare class of compact H II regions, called ``blobs.'' In contrast to the typical H II regions of the Magellanic Clouds, which are extended structures (sizes of several arc minutes on the sky, corresponding to more than 150 light-years, powered by a large number of hot stars), the blobs are very dense and small regions (about 5 to 10 arc-seconds in diameter, corresponding to 5 to 10 light-years). These are in fact sites of young massive stars just leaving their pre-natal molecular cloud. The recent use of the Hubble telescope has been fundamental in penetrating into these compact objects and studying the hidden newborn stars.

Mohammad was born in 1947 in Malayer, a small city situated at 1700 m above sea level in the Zagros mountains of Iran, some 400 kilometers southwest of Tehran. He lived there with his family until the age of eight. The starry night skies of Malayer were perhaps the seeds of his fascination with the stars. He was only 4-5 years old when he started learning poems of the great Iranian poets by heart. He lived in a large family with his great-grandfather, who had a passion for poetry and could recite hundreds of verses of Ferdowsi, Hafez, Khayyam, and Rumi from memory, even though he was in his 80s. He still remembers how all family members were sometimes awakened by his great-grandfather during the night because he had forgotten some verses and needed help. His great-grandfather couldn't sleep till somebody had found the lacking verse!

After his parents moved to the capital Tehran, he continued watching the stars, searching for the constellations and recognizing the bright stars and nebulae with the help of a small binocular. Years later, as a university student, he translated and published several popular books in physics and astronomy, including George Gamow's A Star Called the Sun (Viking Press, New York, 1964) from English into his mother tongue Persian (Tehran, 1972). He obtained his B.Sc. in Physics from Tehran University in 1970 and did a compulsory two-year military service. After six months at the imperial army's artillery faculty in Ispahan studying surveying and cartography, he became a lieutenant. Later every time his division was out in desert for military exercises, he used the fairly powerful surveying telescopes to show the stars and galaxies to his colleagues and soldiers.

In 1975 he was awarded a scholarship by the French government to study astrophysics in France. He earned his Doctorat d'Etat in astrophysics at Paris VII University in 1983 after receiving his Doctorat de Troisième Cycle in astrophysics in 1979 at the same institution. Both dissertations dealt with several aspects of the interstellar medium, particularly H II regions and molecular clouds. He then spent seven years (from 1985 to 1992) as a staff astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, La Silla, in Chile. At that period, even though he continued his own research projects, he became deputy director of the astronomy department (1989-1992) and was in charge of a multiple-object spectrograph (Optopus) at the Cassegrain focus of the 3.6-m telescope. He has kept a sweet memory of living and working in Chile. He is now a French citizen and lives in Paris with his wife Soheila Faramarzi and their two daughters Pegah (Melanie), 17 years, and Chirine, 12 years.

Outside astronomy Mohammad is interested in linguistics and etymology, especially scientific terminology. He has contributed to a scientific terminology system in Persian which, like Greek and Latin, is an Indo-European language. His method uses the roots, prefixes, and affixes to coin Persian counterparts for new technical words. If the necessary roots and affixes do not exist in modern Persian, he goes back to the middle and old Persian and Avestan as well as to Sanskrit, Greek, or Latin to retrieve them. The international terms are adopted and grammatically treated as Persian. The whole procedure is quite complex and the final results should comply with aesthetic criteria. He is now working on an English-Persian Dictionary of Astronomy and Astrophysics in which he proposes Persian equivalents for the latest astrophysical concepts and for classical terms as well.