Arizona State University project led by Sethuraman Panchanathan receives $3 million foundation grant

Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan

The National Science Foundation has given a $3 million grant to a new project at Arizona State University centered on smart cities and smart living.

The initiative, led by Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, will help the university launch a graduate research training program focusing on citizen-centered smart cities.

The grant is a part of the NSF’s Research Traineeship Program, which was designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new and potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training.

Panchanathan, 57, born and raised in Chennai, is principal investigator on the project. He is also director of ASU’s Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing and executive vice president of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer.

He has worked at ASU since arriving in the U.S. in 1997 and is the founding director of the School of Computing and Informatics. Fellow faculty members and sources told India Abroad that the professor is “one of Arizona’s brilliant minds in STEM subjects and projects associated with science and technology,” and as the founder and director of several cutting edge programs at the university “is considered a rock-star at ASU.” They said the project would prepare students to become the engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and policymakers who lead this growing field.

The interdisciplinary project, called Citizen Centered Smart Cities and Smart Living will launch with 24 master’s degree and 14 doctoral students.

The sources said that the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, who was closely associated with ASU, praised Panchanathan as “a pride of Arizona,” and was “an Indian-American making great contributions to our state.”

In an interview with India Abroad, Panchanathan said that the grant was highly competitive but he believed the university’s track record of past projects with NSU funding was perhaps a clincher.

He noted such projects as the school’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, or IGERT, program and the Smart Stadium Project at Sun Devil Stadium, which has a capacity of more than 70,000. He noted that the smart stadium project would not be part of the $3 million grant.

Panchanathan said students will engage in cross-disciplinary courses and research projects, immersive internships with external partners, service-learning opportunities, entrepreneur education, and communication skills training and they would also have access to Sun Devil Stadiumand other local test beds available for research.

“This funding provides us a tremendous opportunity to advance several of ASU’s fundamental values, including our commitment to access, hands-on experiential learning, interdisciplinary collaboration and an entrepreneurial mindset,” he said. He said the funding would assist with the project’s goal to recruit and graduate STEM students from diverse backgrounds “including underrepresented minorities, women and individuals with disabilities.”

He said that the school had been involved with the IGERT program since the science foundation introduced it in 2001 and that its goal was to seed interdisciplinary training initiatives toward a diverse, globally-engaged science and engineering workforce.

“Future scientists will need a multidisciplinary understanding of related fields, including the social, economic, ethical and policy implications of their work,” he said.

Panchanathan said these training programs have also paved the way for the university’s establishment of major interdisciplinary initiatives, such as the Biodesign Institute, the Global Institute of Sustainability, and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering.

“One other goal for the project is career placement and creation of new career paths in smart cities related positions for STEM graduates, and in the final analysis, the project will strive to create community, national and global impact through sharing research findings and project outcomes,” he said.

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