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The scientific mind
Dean of the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Engineering school (2007-2010 ) is an honor no foreigner, much less an Indian, had before him. But when President Obama nominated Subra Suresh as Director of the US National Science Foundation in October 2010, it also signaled an implicit recognition and honor of the best minds India has sent to the US. The $6-billion agency is the primary funder of basic physicalsciences research in the US. The post also puts Suresh in the thick of Obama's education and jobs initiatives - and in the middle of Washington DC's intense politics.
Not that it fazes him. Asked about his first year in Washington, he recalls an anecdote about a reporter asking Woodrow Wilson, who was president of Princeton University before he came to the White House, why he left the Ivy League school. Wilson responded: "I came to Washington so I don't have to deal with politics anymore. "
A 1977 graduate of IIT Madras, Suresh credits his unschooled mother and her (and the Indian) emphasis on education for his success. Although a science administrator now (confirmed for a six-year term) with billions of dollars in budget, Suresh's primary research focuses on nano- and micro-scale mechanical properties of biological cells and molecules. His many awards include the 2007 European Materials Medal, the highest honor conferred by the Federation of European Materials Societies;he was the first scientist based outside Europe to receive the award.
In 2006, he received the Acta Materialia Gold Medal and Technology Review magazine selected his work on nanobiomechanics as one of the top 10 emerging technologies that "will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture". Subra was awarded the Padma Shri in 2011.
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