Biden naming Dr. Arati Prabhakar as science and technology advisor

Image Courtesy: Caltech Alumni Association

Indian American scientist would make history as the first woman, immigrant, or person of color to head OSTP

President Joe Biden intends to nominate Indian American scientist Dr. Arati Prabhakar to serve as Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as also Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.

Once confirmed, India born daughter of immigrant parents would make history as the first woman, immigrant, or person of color to head OSTP.

Prabhakar will also be the President’s Chief Advisor for Science and Technology, a co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and a member of the President’s Cabinet, the White House announced June 21.

Read: Indian American Bhavya Lal leads new NASA technology office (November 17, 2021)

“Dr. Prabhakar is a brilliant and highly-respected engineer and applied physicist and will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy to leverage science, technology, and innovation to expand our possibilities, solve our toughest challenges, and make the impossible possible,” said Biden.

“I share Dr. Prabhakar’s belief that America has the most powerful innovation machine the world has ever seen,” he said.

Prabhakar’s family immigrated from India to the United States when she was three years old – first to Chicago and then settling when she was age 10 in Lubbock, Texas, where she went on to get her electrical engineering degree from Texas Tech University.

She was the first woman to earn a PhD in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology, where she also earned an MS in electrical engineering.

Prabhakar has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate before, to lead the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and was the first woman to hold that role, the White House noted.

She later served as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the birthplace of breakthrough technologies like stealth aircraft and the Internet.

If confirmed to lead OSTP, Prabhakar would become the third Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander to serve in President Biden’s Cabinet, joining Vice President Kamala Harris and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

Prabhakar has led two different federal R&D agencies and worked with startups, large companies, universities, government labs, and nonprofits across a wide variety of sectors to create powerful new solutions for critical challenges.

She is an engineer and applied physicist with extensive management and leadership credentials.

Prabhakar served as director of DARPA from 2012 to 2017 during the Obama presidency. At DARPA, she oversaw teams that prototyped a system for detecting nuclear and radiological materials before a terrorist can build a bomb, that developed tools to find human trafficking networks in the deep and dark web, and that enabled complex military systems to work together even when they were not originally designed to do so.

She also established a new office to spur novel biotechnologies. Under her leadership, DARPA kick-started the development of a rapid-response mRNA vaccine platform, making possible the fastest safe and effective vaccine development in world history in response to Covid-19.

Prabhakar was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to lead the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), taking the helm at age 34 as the first woman to lead the agency.

At NIST, which she led from 1993 to 1997, she helped take from early seed stage to national scale the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to boost the competitiveness of small- and mid-size manufacturers, and the Advanced Technology Program to stimulate early-stage advanced technology development.

She also reinforced NIST’s long-time mission in measurement science and technology that underpins commerce and high-quality manufacturing.

Between her Federal leadership roles, Prabhakar spent 15 years in Silicon Valley, helping bring R&D to deployment as a company executive and as a venture capitalist. Her work included components for consumer electronics and semiconductor process technology.

In 2019, she founded Actuate, a non-profit organization bringing new actors to the table to develop solutions to the challenges of climate, health, trustworthy data and information technology, and opening access to opportunity for every person.

She started her career in the legislative branch as a Congressional Fellow at the Office of Technology Assessment.

She is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Indian American Impact, a leading community organization said it was “thrilled” over Prabhakar’s historic nomination showing Biden’s unrelenting commitment to a diverse Cabinet and recognition of the Asian American community.

Read: Biden names former DARPA leader Arati Prabhakar as science adviser (June 22, 2022)

“We applaud the President for his historic decision, which uplifts not only the exceptionally qualified Dr Prabhakar, but all South Asians and Asian Americans who aspire to reach new heights and become leaders within public service and the scientific community,” executive director Neil Makhija stated.

“We have no doubt that Dr Prabhakar, the first woman, Asian American and immigrant to serve as OSTP director, will bring brilliance, determination and diverse leadership to her historic post as a member of the President’s Cabinet.”

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