panchanathan nsf

Academician and innovator Sethuraman Panchanathan was confirmed by the Senate June 18 to serve as the director of the National Science Foundation. The Indian American scientist is expected to be sworn into office July 2. (Arizona State University photo)

Indian American academician and innovator Sethuraman Panchanathan was confirmed by the Senate June 18 to serve as the director of the National Science Foundation.

Panchanathan, who served on NSF’s National Science Board during the Obama Administration, was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. Earlier in the month, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions unanimously passed his appointment June 3. Panchanathan served on the National Science Board’s External Engagement and National Science and Engineering Policy committees at the time of his confirmation.

President Donald Trump, who appointed Panchanathan in January, is expected to sign off on his commission next week. He will be sworn in July 2 and is expected to take office July 6, Amanda Greenwell, NSF head of Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, told India-West.

“We are looking forward to having you onboard, Dr. Panchanathan!” tweeted the NSF.

Panchanathan told India-West he would wait to comment on his new role until he formally takes office. He currently serves as Executive Vice President and Chief Research and Innovation Officer at Arizona State University.

At a briefing last October for the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather, Panchanathan outlined his vision for the role science and technology can play in growing the U.S. economy.

“At no other time in our history have advancements in science and technology been accelerating at the scale and scope we are seeing today,” he said. “Our country has always been in the vanguard because of the innovative spirit that permeates everything that we do. We are looked upon as a model to be emulated by countries across the globe.”

“We therefore need to do everything possible to cultivate, nurture, and advance this innovative spirit to ensure America’s competitiveness and strategic leadership. We are not only in a competition to be ahead of other countries, but also in a race to outperform ourselves. This is the ticket to ensuring our economic competitiveness and well-being,” said the IIT Madras alumnus.

Panchanathan advocated for a strong research and development ecosystem. He also spoke about the need for a pipeline of lifelong learners who are capable of adapting to rapid advances in science and technology, and an economic development ecosystem that could quickly translate basic scientific research for the marketplace.

“I am confident that if we can address and continue to deploy these priorities, we will continue to be in the vanguard of global competitiveness and economic prosperity,” he said at the committee hearing.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, who serves as chairwoman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, congratulated Panchanathan June 19. “At this important moment in the Foundation’s history, we pause to celebrate the past 70 years of transformative discoveries while keeping our eye on the challenges ahead.”

“I have great confidence that Dr. Panchanathan’s proven leadership and vision for disrupting the status quo will help usher in a bright future of scientific breakthroughs for the benefit of the American people. I look forward to working with him to advance the Foundation’s critical research and STEM education mission in the years ahead,” said Johnson.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma, Ranking Member of the same committee, also congratulated Panchanathan.

“NSF is also supporting and funding advanced research that will help us detect, treat, and ultimately defeat COVID-19, and there’s never been a more important time for strong and smart leadership,” said Lucas.

“Dr. Panchanathan’s years of experience in research and academia have prepared him for this role. I’m looking forward to working with him on our shared goal of keeping America the world leader in science and technology,” he said.

Indiaspora founder MR Rangaswami told India-West: “The Indian American community is so proud that one of us has been unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate for this prestigious position.”

“‘Panch’, as he is popularly known, did a spectacular job in putting Arizona State University on the world innovation map. They were ranked as one of the most innovative universities in the world,” he added.

“The United States needs to get its mojo back and Panch is the right person to strategically focus on research and innovation at the national level,” said Rangaswami.

Panchanathan earned his Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa. His research interests, according to his bio, include human-centered multimedia computing, computing technologies for enhancing the quality of life for individuals with disabilities, and machine learning for multimedia applications. He is married to Soumya Panchanathan, a clinical pediatrician at Maricopa County Hospital. The couple have two children.

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