Nominated to lead NSF

Suresh awaits Senate approval

3100 suresh
President Barack Obama formally nominated Subra Suresh ScD ’81, Dean of MIT’s School of Engineering, to be the next director of the National Science Foundation last Wednesday. If confirmed by the Senate, Dean Suresh will serve as director of the NSF for the next six years.
Elijah Mena—The Tech

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: In the original version of this article, the third paragraph contained a single incomplete sentence which had been incorrectly placed. This paragraph should have not appeared in the article, and the mistake has been corrected online. The article also misspelled the last name of most recent former NSF director. His last name is Bement, not Berment.

On June 8, President Barack Obama formally nominated MIT School of Engineering dean, Subra Suresh ScD ’81, to act as the next director of the National Science Foundation.

Assuming the nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Suresh will serve a six-year term. He will replace the current director, Arden Bement, who was scheduled to leave the foundation on June 1.

With an annual budget of roughly seven billion dollars, the National Science Foundation is a federal government agency which serves to promote “opportunities for research and education funding in all areas of science and engineering,” according to their website.

Obama first announced his intent to nominate Suresh in a June 3, as he also appointed the Department of State’s Ambassador to the Republic of Lebanon and the Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic in his announcement.

“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.

As director of the National Science Foundation, Suresh will oversee the foundation’s staff and management, which directs “program creation and administration, merit review, planning, budget and day-to-day operations,” according to the NSF website.

The foundation includes a workforce of nearly 1700 employees, who are based primarily at the foundation’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The staff includes workers who review research proposals, primarily from academic institutions like MIT, which are awarded through a merit-based process. The foundation also includes the Office of the Inspector General, which examines the NSF’s work and reports to the National Science Board and Congress.

“I think Subra is great, and I think he’ll be great for the NSF,” said Marc A. Kastner, dean of the MIT School of Science.

Since July of 2007, Suresh has served as the dean of the School of Engineering and has held joint faculty appointments in four MIT departments. Under his leadership, the department has most notably seen a spike in the diversity of new faculty appointments.

According to the MIT news office, “approximately 45 new faculty members have joined [the School of Engineering] since he became dean, and in 2009, for the first time in its history, the school hired more new women faculty than men.”

This nomination “doesn’t benefit MIT directly,” Kastner said, but “of course it enhances the reputation of MIT when our community goes and serves at a very important role.”

It is too soon to know who might serve as a potential replacement as dean of the School of Engineering if Suresh is appointed as the next NSF director, said MIT School of Engineering Director of Communications Chad Galts.

“Until he has a new job, he will still be Dean of Engineering,” Galts said.

In contrast to previous National Science Foundation directors who were no longer active scientists, Suresh maintains an active lab, which focuses on largely on the nanomachanics of biomaterials.

According to the News Office, Suresh has authored over 220 research articles in international journals, acted as a coinventor on over 12 U.S. and international patents, and has coedited five books, including Fatigue of Materials and Thin Film Materials — a prominent textbook used among materials science and engineering — during his research career.

Suresh background spans both the realms of science and engineering, which gives him a more broad perspective for a position like director of the NSF, Kastner said.

“It’s very important that the director appreciates the importance of doing research just because it’s interesting, and not only for applications,” he said. “He’s done really, really great research. I think that’s very important for the director of the NSF.”

Over 100 students and research scientists have trained in his research group, which has focused on such topics as the mechanobiology of malaria in infected red blood cells. He has received such honors for his work as the 2007 European Materials Medal and the 2006 Acta Materialia Gold Medal. Additionally, the Technology Review magazine named Suresh’s work on nanobiomechanics as one of the top 10 emerging technologies that “will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture” in 2006.

Among his other academic appointments, Suresh has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, the German National Academy of Sciences, the Indian Academy of Sciences, and the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences.

Suresh earned his bachelor of technology degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in 1977. He received his MS from Iowa State University in 1979, his ScD from MIT in 1981, and completed postdoctoral work from 1981 to 1983 at the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Suresh joined Brown University as an assistant professor of engineering in December 1983 and was promoted to full professor in July 1989. In 1993, Suresh joined MIT as the R. P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering.

Suresh’s daughter Nina E. Suresh ‘10, graduated from MIT last Friday with a degree in Course IX (Brain and Cognitive Sciences) and a minor in French.

More on Obama’s announcement regarding Suresh can be found online at: