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Obama intends to nominate Suresh as next NSF director

The MIT engineering dean would lead the independent federal agency that supports science and engineering research.
U.S. President Barack Obama intends to nominate Subra Suresh, dean of the MIT School of Engineering, to serve as the next director of the National Science Foundation.
U.S. President Barack Obama intends to nominate Subra Suresh, dean of the MIT School of Engineering, to serve as the next director of the National Science Foundation.
Photo: Justin Knight

U.S. President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he intends to nominate Subra Suresh, dean of the MIT School of Engineering, to serve as the next director of the National Science Foundation. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Suresh, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at MIT, would be appointed to a six-year term as director.

“Through his invigorating leadership, Dean Suresh has led MIT's School of Engineering while pursuing his own remarkable research portfolio at the intersection of the life sciences and engineering,” said MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif. “In keeping with MIT's long tradition of national service, he will bring this same breadth of knowledge and vision to the National Science Foundation.”

The White House made its announcement about the president’s intention to nominate Suresh in a statement that also included news of the president’s intention to nominate Maura Connelly to be U.S. ambassador to Lebanon and Daniel B. Smith to be U.S. ambassador to Greece. “I am proud that such experienced and committed individuals have agreed to take on these important roles in my administration. I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years,” Obama said.

The NSF is a federal government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. With an annual budget of nearly $7 billion, the NSF funds approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities.

Trained as a mechanical engineer, Suresh has made dramatic contributions to a range of fields in engineering and science. He has expanded his research interests to encompass materials, nanotechnology and the life sciences, and has most recently done extensive work on the red blood cell and its nanobiomechanical properties as they influence a variety of diseases. Suresh has made significant advances and created a range of new experimental methodologies to unravel the inner workings of such diseases as malaria.

Suresh is the author of more than 220 research articles in international journals, coeditor of five books, and coinventor on more than 12 U.S. and international patents. More than 100 students, postdoctoral associates, and research scientists have trained in his research group, and many now occupy prominent positions in academia, industry and governments around the world. He is author or co-author of several books, including Fatigue of Materials and Thin Film Materials — widely used in materials science and engineering.

Suresh has held joint faculty appointments in four MIT departments, and has served as dean of the School of Engineering since July 2007. During his tenure, the school has seen unprecedented growth in the diversity of its faculty. Approximately 45 new faculty members have joined the school since he became dean, and in 2009, for the first time in its history, the school hired more new women faculty than men.

“Subra is an outstanding engineering scientist,” said Marc Kastner, dean of MIT’s School of Science. “He has a very broad perspective on why science is important for its own sake — as well as for its applications.”

Suresh received his bachelor of technology degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in 1977, his MS from Iowa State University in 1979 and his ScD from MIT in 1981. Following postdoctoral research from 1981 to 1983 at the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he joined Brown University as an assistant professor of engineering in December 1983; he was promoted to full professor in July 1989. He joined MIT in 1993 as the R. P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering.

Suresh is the recipient of the 2007 European Materials Medal, the highest honor conferred by the Federation of European Materials Societies, and the 2006 Acta Materialia Gold Medal. In 2006, Technology Review magazine selected Suresh's work on nanobiomechanics as one of the top 10 emerging technologies that “will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture.” He has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, and the German National Academy of Sciences, the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences.

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