Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan confirmed as National Science Foundation Director

Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan
Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Photo credit: Arizona State University

Indian American scientist to lead foremost US agency supporting fundamental research and education.

In a rare unanimous vote, the US senate has confirmed Indian American engineer-scientist Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan as Director of the National Science Foundation.

Panchanathan, 58, a graduate of Indian Institute of Science (1984) and Indian Institute of Technology (1986), will lead the US government’s foremost agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering.

Nominated to the post in December by President Donald Trump, Panchanathan was confirmed Friday after his nomination process was fast tracked by the Senate.

He would replace France Córdova, whose six-year term ended in March, as the 15th director of the NSF. He is expected to take office on July 6.

“My personal mission is to inspire, empower and serve humanity through life-changing innovations that have the potential to alter the face of how we view ”different abilities” on a global scale,” Panchanathan says on his website.

RELATED: Trump nominates Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan as Director of National Science Foundation (December 23, 2019)

With a budget of nearly $ 8 billion, the NSF is said to fund approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by the US colleges and universities.

In some fields, such as mathematics, computer science, economics, and the social sciences, the NSF is the major source of federal backing.

The Founding Director of the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing at Arizona State University, Panchanathan is currently the University’s Executive Vice President and the Chief Research and Innovation Officer.

Panchanathan is the second Indian American to head the prestigious 70-year old foundation after Dr Subra Suresh, like him a Chennai-born IIT-ian, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010, but left after three years.

A physics undergrad of University of Chennai’s Vivekananda College, Panchanathan is a Fellow of the National Association of Inventors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Society of Optical Engineering.

RELATED: Indian American appointed by Obama to the US National Science Board (June 17, 2014)

The Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC) that he founded in Arizona in 2001 focuses on designing technologies and devices for assisting individuals with disabilities. Among the disabilities the lab attempts to ease are impaired vision, stroke and autism.

Panchanathan’s research contributions have been disseminated in hundreds of papers in various refereed journals and conferences and edited more than 30 book and book chapters.

He is recognized as a leader in the field of human-centered computing and informatics and has an h-index of 37 with over 5500 citations.

He also mentored over 100 students and scholars, which include graduate students, post-docs, research engineers and research scientists.

“For five years, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan has been a bold, energizing presence on the National Science Board and he was a leader in every sense of the word in the research community prior to that,” the outgoing director Córdova had stated when Trump nominated the Indian American last December. “This position requires the ability to connect with all stakeholders in the U.S. science and engineering community, walking the fine line between serving and leading. Panch has the character and knowledge that make him an ideal fit for the job. As my own term draws to a close, I am heartened at the idea of Panch as my successor.”

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