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Indian-American scientist is chief of National Science Foundation

Washington, DC: Indian-American scientist Dr Sethuraman Panchanathan officially took charge as Director of National Science Foundation (NSF), a day after President Donald Trump appointed him as head of the top American body supporting fundamental research in non-medical fields of science and engineering.

Unanimously confirmed by the US Senate last week, Panchanathan, 58, from the Arizona State University, replaces White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr Kelvin Droegemeier who served as Acting Director of the NSF.

The term of previous NSF Director France Cordova’s term ended in March 2020.

On Monday, Trump formally appointed Panchanathan as the 15th Director of the NSF, the top American science funding body that has an annual budget of $ 7.4 billion, the White House said today, adding that it is a six-year term.

“Dr. Panchanathan has the creativity, tenacity, communication skills, understanding of the research enterprise, and commitment to lead this agency successfully and continue moving the scientific enterprise forward on the endless frontier. I’m excited to see him make his mark and take the agency to the next level, and I look forward to working with him,”  Droegemeier said.

Soon after taking helms, Panchanathan identified three pillars of his vision for the NSF: advancing research into the future, ensuring inclusivity and continuing global leadership in science and engineering.

He has a long history of doing exactly those things. His current position, which he has held for the past nine years at Arizona State University, has allowed him to lead the Knowledge Enterprise, which has advanced research, innovation, strategic partnerships, entrepreneurship and global and economic development, the NSF said.

“Right now, the world faces significant scientific challenges – most obviously a pandemic, but in addition to providing creative solutions to address current problems, our eyes are on the future, leveraging partnerships at every level and encouraging diversity that breeds new ideas for a robust pipeline of young scientists,” Panchanathan said.

He is the second Indian-American ever to be nominated to the prestigious science position. The first was Subra Suresh who served from October 2010 to March 2013.

Panchanathan earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University of Madras in 1981 and in Electronics and Communication Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science in 1984. He then earned his master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1986 and a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from University of Ottawa in 1989.

He began his career at Arizona State and founded the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC), a group that designed technologies and devices to assist people with disabilities.

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