Dr. Subra Suresh
National Science Foundation
Photo by Sandy Schaeffer
Subra Suresh, distinguished engineer and scientist, was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in September 2010. As director of this $7-billion independent federal agency since October 2010, he leads the only government science agency charged with advancing all fields of fundamental science and engineering research and related education. NSF's programs and initiatives keep the United States at the forefront of science and engineering, empower future generations of scientists and engineers, and foster economic growth and innovation.
Prior to assuming his current role, Suresh served as the dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His experimental and modeling work on the mechanical properties of structural and functional materials, innovations in materials design and characterization, and discoveries of possible connections between cellular nanomechanical processes and human disease states have shaped new fields in the fertile intersections of traditional disciplines. He has co-authored more than 240 journal articles, registered 21 patents, and written three widely used materials science books. More than a hundred students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scholars have been members of his research group, and many of them now occupy prominent positions in academia, industry, and government worldwide.
Suresh received his Bachelor of Technology degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in First Class with Distinction; a master's degree from Iowa State University; and a Doctor of Science degree from MIT. Following postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he joined the faculty of engineering at Brown University in December 1983, and was promoted to full professor in July 1989. He joined MIT in 1993 as the R.P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and served as head of MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering during 2000-2006.
In his leadership roles at MIT, Suresh helped create new state-of-the-art laboratories, the MIT Transportation Initiative, and the Center for Computational Engineering; led MIT's efforts in establishing the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Center; and oversaw the recruitment of a record number of women faculty in engineering. Since joining NSF, he has established several new initiatives including INSPIRE (Integrative NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education), PEER (Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research, in collaboration with USAID), the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative, the NSF Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) Program, and the NSF Innovation Corps.
Under Suresh's leadership, and in response to an invitation from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, NSF hosted a Global Summit on Scientific Merit Review in May 2012. This summit included the participation, for the first time, of the heads of leading science funding agencies from nearly 50 countries. Summit participants endorsed a "Statement of Principles of Scientific Merit Review" to serve as a basis of potential multilateral collaborations in the future. The participants also collectively launched a virtual entity, the Global Research Council (GRC), in an attempt to coordinate practices that enhance international collaboration in science. Suresh is the founding chair of the governing board of the GRC. Brazil and Germany will co-host the next meeting of the GRC in May 2013 in Berlin where, among other activities, principles of research integrity and open access to publications and data will be further explored and developed.
Suresh has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, Spanish Royal Academy of Engineering, German National Academy of Sciences, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, Academy of Sciences of the Developing World, Indian National Academy of Engineering, and Indian Academy of Sciences. He has been elected a fellow or honorary member of all the major materials research societies in the United States and India.
Suresh has been awarded seven honorary doctorate degrees from universities in the United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and India. In 2006, Technology Review magazine selected Suresh as a top-ten researcher whose research "will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture." His many honors include the 2006 Acta Materialia Gold Medal, the 2007 European Materials Medal, the 2008 Eringen Medal of the Society of Engineering Science, the 2011 General President's Gold Medal from the Indian National Science Congress, the 2011 Padma Shri Award from the president of India (one of the highest civilian honors from the Republic of India), the 2011 Nadai Medal and the 2012 Timoshenko Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the 2012 R.F. Mehl Award from the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society. Dr. Suresh has been named a 2013 Franklin Institute Laureate for "outstanding contributions to our understanding of the mechanical behavior of materials in applications ranging from large structures down to the atomic level. This research also showed how deformation of biological cells can be linked to human disease."
Suresh has been married to Mary (Delmar) since 1986. They have two daughters, Nina and Meera.