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Suresh, Subra

Published onOct 15, 2021
Suresh, Subra

(May 30, 1956 – )

Quick Facts

Alumnus Subra Suresh is the ninth president of Carnegie Mellon University and was nominated by President Barack Obama to Director of the National Science Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University

Subra Suresh was born on May 30, 1956, in Chennai, Tamil Naduu, India. At just 15 years old, he graduated high school in Tamil Nadu. He earned his bachelor of technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in 1977 and his MS in mechanical engineering from Iowa State University in 1979. Two years later, he completed his doctoral thesis to earn a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

On 1 January 2018, he was inaugurated as the fourth President of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where he is also the inaugural Distinguished University Professor. He quickly launched an initiative to turn the NTU campus into a "smart" campus, with eco-friendly buildings, greater use of robotics, and driverless electric buses. He also recently launched an ambition 5-year plan.

He was the ninth president of Carnegie Mellon University, a position he began July 1, 2013 and held through 2017. In his first month at Carnegie Mellon, he joined more than 160 presidents from the Association of American Universities to sign an open letter to President Obama and Congress that supports federal investment in higher education and research. Suresh also worked with colleagues from MIT to find a way to detect blood cells with early-stage malarial infections by measuring the changes in the cells’ electrical properties.

Before he joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty, Suresh served as the director of the National Science Foundation. Nominated by President Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment, and Suresh became director of the $7 billion independent federal agency in September 2010.

As the NSF director, Suresh established several new initiatives, which included the NSF Innovation Corps; Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER); the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative; Integrative NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE); Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW); and the NSF Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) Program.

Prior to his time with NSF, he was the dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at MIT. His work—including experimental and modeling work with mechanical properties of structural and functional materials—has shaped new fields in growing collaborations of traditional disciplines. A record number of women were recruited to the engineering faculty while Suresh held his leadership roles at MIT.

In 2007 and until he went to work for NSF, Suresh served as the dean of engineering at MIT, contributing much to the school. He had a part in creating the MIT Transportation Initiative, advanced modern laboratories and the Center for Computational Engineering. He also led the university’s efforts in launching the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Center and made innovations in materials design and characterization.

In December 1983—after Suresh finished his postdoctoral research at the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley—he went on to join the engineering department at Brown University. He was promoted to a full professor in July 1989. Four years later, he moved to MIT as the R.P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. From 2000 to 2006, Suresh served as the head of MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

His extensive list of accomplishments includes co-authoring more than 250 journal articles, registering 21 patents and writing three widely used books: “Fatigue of Materials,” “Fundamentals of Functionally Graded Materials” and “Thin Film Materials.” Thomson Reuters Institute for Scientific Information called Suresh one of the most-cited scientists in the area of materials science.

His achievements go on from there, comprising of nine honorary doctoral degrees from universities in the U.S., Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, China and India. “Technology Review” magazine named Suresh as a top-ten researcher whose research “will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture” in 2006. Suresh’s list of honors includes the 2006 Acta Materialia Gold Medal, the 2011 General President’s Gold Medal from the Indian National Science Congress, and the 2012 R.F. Mehl Award from the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, among many others.

Suresh has been a fellow or honorary member of every major materials research societies in the U.S. and India, and he has been elected to numerous science and engineering academies. Among them are the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Spanish Royal Academies of Engineering and Sciences, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, German National Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Academy of Sciences of the Developing World, and Indian Academy of Sciences.

Suresh was also 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.”

He has been married to his wife Mary (Delmar) since 1986, and they have two daughters, Nina and Meera.

Selected Sources

Biographical information, National Science Foundation.

"Carnegie Mellon University".

"Pittsburgh's New Immigrants: Iowa State alum, CMU president Subra Suresh makes the case for diversity". College of Engineering News. Iowa State University. 26 November 2014.

"Obama's Nominee to Lead NSF Lauded for Science and Management Skills". Science328 (5984): 1340–1341. 

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