WASHINGTON, D.C.— Prof. Sethuraman ‘Panch’ Panchanathan of Arizona State University (ASU), considered a trailblazer in scientific and high technology circles in the state, and once described as the ‘Pride of Arizona’ by the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, has been nominated by President Trump to helm the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The NSF is a federal agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. The medical counterpart of the NSF is the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The Chennai born and raised, Panchanathan, 58, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1997, is the director of ASU’s Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing, and also executive vice president of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer.
The founding director of the School of Computing and Informatics, he was instrumental in founding the Biomedical Informatics Department at ASU and also served as the chair of the computer science and engineering department.
Panchanathan also founded the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing at ASU and CUbiC’s flagship project iCARE, for individuals who are blind and visually impaired, for which he won the Governor’s Innovator of the Year-Academia Award in November 2004.
Announcing President Trump’s nomination of Panchanathan to head the NSF on Dec. 19, the White House said, “Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan brings to this position a wealth of experience in research, innovation, academic administration, and policy as exemplified by his long and distinguished career.”
In a brief statement, Panchanathan, who has to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which is expected to be a formality, said he was “humbled and honored” to be chosen to head the NSF, but otherwise remained tight-lipped.
In 2014, Panchanathan was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. National Science Board, and chaired its Committee on Strategy.
He holds a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Ottawa in Canada; an M.Tech in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras; a B.E. in electronics and communication engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; and a B.Sc. in physics from the University of Madras in India.
Panchanathan told India Abroad that he had first immigrated to Canada to do his doctoral studies in 1986 and since taught at the University of Ottawa after he received his PhD, but had decided to come over to the U.S. in 1991 “because I was so taken by the information and technology revolution taking place at the time, and wanted so much to be part of and contribute to this revolution.”
Sen. McCain, who was a close friend and admirer of Panchanathan, besides describing him as “a pride of Arizona,” would also introduce him as “an Indian American making great contributions to our state.”