Professor Subra Suresh
Professor Subra Suresh is an eminent American scientist, engineer and entrepreneur with decades of distinguished and impactful leadership in academia, industry and government. He was appointed president of NTU in July 2017 and began his tenure on 1st January, 2018. In recognition of his scholarly and scientific achievements in research, the NTU Board of Trustees also selected him as the inaugural Distinguished University Professor, the highest honour given to a faculty member at NTU.
He was the ninth President of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) from 2013 to 2017. Before that, he served as Director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2010 to 2013, and Dean of the School of Engineering from 2007 to 2010 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he was a faculty member for two decades.
Prof Suresh has a deep understanding of higher education and research systems in North America, Europe, Singapore, India and China, having actively engaged with various public and private agencies, boards and individual researchers across these regions, to advance research, education and innovation.
His research in materials science and engineering, biomedical engineering and computational biology, has helped to shape disciplines and technologies at the intersections of engineering, science and medicine.
At Carnegie Mellon, Prof Suresh launched a historic campus infrastructure development effort including the creation of a new quadrangle to house the largest building on campus. Under his leadership, these initiatives were supported by four of the most successful fundraising years in the university’s history, which also saw an increase of 55% in the university’s total endowment. He worked with the university community to secure more than US$200 million in new permanent endowment specifically for Presidential Fellowships and Scholarships, a programme he established in 2014 to provide financial support to top students.
During President Suresh’s tenure, CMU assembled the most diverse senior leadership team in the university’s history; established a strategic plan through an inclusive campus-wide process that placed particular emphasis on enhancing the campus experience as well as the health and wellness of students; recruited a record proportion of outstanding women first-year undergraduate students in computer science and engineering (at levels several times greater than the average for US universities in these areas where women have been traditionally underrepresented); and founded and chaired the Global Learning Council as an international forum to help improve learning outcomes through technology.
Prof Suresh was appointed by then United States President Barack Obama in 2010 to lead the US National Science Foundation as Director. He was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate.
"We have been very fortunate to have Subra Suresh guiding the National Science Foundation... [He] has shown himself to be a consummate scientist and engineer – beholden to evidence and committed to upholding the highest scientific standards." Former US President Barack Obama
In conversation with former US President Barack Obama: Prof Suresh at the Oval Office in the White House during his term as the Director of the US National Science Foundation.
As Director, he oversaw an annual budget of US$7 billion that supports fundamental research and innovation in all fields of science and engineering and related education in more than 2,000 institutions across the US and in a number of research facilities across the globe from the Arctic to Antarctica.
Committed to upholding the highest scientific standards at the National Science Foundation, Prof Suresh established the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) programme aimed at translating research discoveries into industrial practice. Launched in 2011, this effort was praised by Harvard Business Review for using “lean startup techniques to turn scientists into entrepreneurs”. It has since been replicated by a number of government organisations in the US and abroad.
At NSF, Prof Suresh also helped to establish the Global Research Council and the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide programme. All of his global initiatives at NSF involved strong links to Singapore.
Connections to Singapore
No stranger to Singapore, Prof Suresh has had numerous high-level interactions with Singapore researchers and leaders for nearly a quarter century.
He has served as a consultant to the National Science and Technology Board and the Advisory Boards or Councils of institutes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (Singapore’s lead public agency that drives research to advance discovery and innovation) and other government bodies. He was also on the Boards of several faculties within the National University of Singapore, and was the inaugural Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Chair from 2006 to 2010.
Prof Suresh was the principal faculty from MIT who led the formation of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), established in 2007 as the first centre in Singapore’s international research campus and innovation hub, the National Research Foundation’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE). In this capacity, he worked closely with the MIT and Singapore research communities, and crystallised and presented the vision for the SMART centre and its role in the CREATE campus in July 2006 to the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), chaired by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
While serving as Dean of Engineering at MIT, Prof Suresh continued his scholarly work in partnership with colleagues from NUS and NTU in the first SMART centre programme on infectious diseases, which led to several dozen research articles in leading international journals.
He has interacted with Singapore’s National Research Foundation since its inception in 2006, and since 2014, has been a member of both the Academic Research Council of the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the International Academic Advisory Panel of the Prime Minister’s Office and MOE.
Prof Suresh has been an independent director of HP Inc, California, since 2015, and of Battelle Memorial Institute, a research and development organisation based in Ohio, from 2014 to 2017. He has been a Senior Advisor to Temasek International Private Ltd, Singapore, since 2017, and a member, since 2015, of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council, which advises the CEO and the Management Board of the Munich-based multinational company, Siemens AG. In 2018, he was appointed a member of Singapore’s high-level Future Economy Council and a Non-executive and Independent Director of the Singapore Stock Exchange Board. He has previously served as a director of LORD Corporation (a North Carolina-based private company producing technology products and services around the globe) and several nonprofit organisations in the United States and overseas.
He has consulted widely and globally for multinational corporations, technology start-ups, governments, nonprofits and research organisations. In 2002, Prof Suresh co-founded a technology start-up company, which was acquired by UltraTech in 2006. In recognition of his impactful contributions to industry, the Innovation Research Interchange (formerly the Industrial Research Institute, IRI) honoured him with its highest award, the IRI Medal in 2015, with the award citation specifically mentioning his research in shaping “new fields at the intersections of engineering, biology and medicine.”
Scientist and innovator
As a scientist, Prof Suresh researches the properties of engineered and biological materials, and their connections to human diseases. Apart from more than 300 published research articles, his research output includes 25 patent applications and three books, two of which have been translated into Chinese and are used as textbooks for graduate students.
Prof Suresh holds the distinction of being the only university president elected to all three US national academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, in addition to his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Inventors. He is an elected member of 15 science and/or engineering academies based in the US, China, France, India, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Spain. He has 18 honorary doctorates from universities around the world including Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), IIT Roorkee (India), Sungkyunkwan University (South Korea), Mangalore University (India), Zhejiang University (China), Northwestern University (USA), University of Southampton (UK), Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland), Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), Warwick University (UK), St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (Russia), Dartmouth College (USA) and his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
Prof Suresh received an honorary doctorate from Zhejiang University in 2013. On the extreme right is Prof Yang Wei, one of Prof Suresh’s first students when he was an assistant professor at Brown University. Prof Yang is now the president of the National Natural Sciences Foundation, China’s top science agency.
Prof Suresh is one of the few elected foreign members and the only current US-based university president in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was a member of an advisory group to the Governor of Guangdong Province during 2014-16, for technology and industry matters. His connections with China go back some 25 years when his book Fatigue of Materials was first translated into Chinese, and he has collaborated in research with various Chinese scientists. Over the years, Prof Suresh has held numerous professorships for visiting appointments at universities around the world. His work in nanobiomechanics garnered him a spot in MIT’s Technology Review magazine in 2006 as a Top 10 researcher whose work will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture. He was also chosen by Science Watch/Thomson Reuters as one of the top 100 most impactful materials scientists (based on publication citation impact) during the decade 2000-2010. In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honours, by the President of India.
Professor Suresh’s exceptional academic contributions are recognised in the many major international awards and accolades received over the years. They include the 2007 European Materials Medal, the highest honour bestowed by the Federation of European Materials Societies comprising professional societies from 28 European member nations, with Prof Suresh being the first non-European to be so recognised; the 2008 Eringen Medal of the Society for Engineering Science; and the 2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, one of the highest international honours for scientific and scholarly achievement.
His recent honours in 2018 include the TWAS Medal from The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), the Brown Engineering Leadership Medal from Brown University’s School of Engineering and an honorary fellowship from St Hugh’s College, Oxford University. In 2018, he became a member of the Global University Leaders Forum in Davos, an intellectual community within the World Economic Forum that provides thought leadership and academic stewardship in higher education, such as the role of science in research, development and innovation.
In August 2017, the NTU Board of Trustees launched a new professorship to recognise academic talent with extraordinary scholarly achievement, who typically cross multiple disciplinary boundaries and who have distinguished themselves internationally. The Board, with the unanimous recommendation of its Academic Affairs Committee, decided that Prof Suresh would be “an ideal candidate and role model as NTU’s inaugural Distinguished University Professor” and appointed him to this prestigious professorship.
Born in India, Prof Suresh graduated from high school at 15 and received his undergraduate degree in first class with distinction in technology from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Madras, which recognised him as a Distinguished Alumnus in 1997. He received a master's degree from Iowa State University, and went on to complete his doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT in just two years.
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 received permanent tenure in July 1986. Prof Suresh returned to MIT in 1993 as the R P Simmons Professor and served as Head of Department of Materials Science and Engineering from 2000 to 2006.
Prof Suresh is married to Mary Delmar Suresh, a public health consultant. They have two daughters, Nina, a medical doctor, and Meera, a global health professional at a non-profit organisation in the US.
Prof Suresh with his wife, Mary Delmar Suresh.
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