US Senate appoints an Indian-American scientist as head of National Science Foundation


An eminent Indian-American scientist, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan became the head of a top American body supporting fundamental research in non-medical fields of science and engineering.

The US Senate, on Friday, confirmed Dr. Panchanathan as the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Panchanathan, 58, from the Arizona State University, would head the NSF, the top American science funding body that has an annual budget of USD 7.4 billion.

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.

He replaces France Cordova, whose six-year term ended in March, as the 15th director of the NSF. He is expected to take office on July 6.

“My personal mission is to inspire, empower and serve humanity through life-changing innovations that have the potential to alter the face of how we view ”different abilities” on a global scale,” Mr Panchanathan was quoted as saying on his personal website.

Last October, Panchanathan outlined his vision for the role science and technology can play in growing the US economy, during a Senate Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather.

Chairperson Eddie Bernice Johnson of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee said that at this important moment in the Foundation’s history, “we pause” to celebrate the past 70 years of transformative discoveries while keeping eyes 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,” Ms. Johnson said.

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.

Mr Panchanathan, who has been an active member of Indiaspora, a prominent San Fransisco-based NGO, is the right person for the job especially at a time when the country is facing challenges from China, said founder MR Rangaswami, adding that the NSF needs to play an even more critical role as “we move ahead”.

A Fellow of the NAI, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Society of Optical Engineering, he 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.