Subra Suresh: CMU’s ninth president

Subra Suresh comes from a background of heavy involvement in materials sciences. (credit: File photo) Subra Suresh comes from a background of heavy involvement in materials sciences. (credit: File photo)

On a festive occasion involving Carnegie Mellon students, faculty, staff, and alumni from around the world, former National Science Foundation (NSF) director Subra Suresh assumed office as Carnegie Mellon’s new president at the end of last school year. Suresh began his term on July 1 as the university’s ninth president, succeeding President Jared Cohon.

Suresh was selected by a 17-member committee, which included representation from the university’s Board of Trustees, faculty, and alumni. Anthony Rollett, former head of the Faculty Senate and professor of materials science and engineering, chaired the faculty committee. The search committee selected Suresh from hundreds of outstanding candidates.

“As the co-chair of the search committee, it was extremely rewarding to work with the entire community in the search process and to succeed in attracting such an outstanding individual as our new president,” Rollett said.

Suresh received his bachelor of technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in Chennai in May 1977, his master’s in science from Iowa State University in May 1979, and his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in August 1981. After completing his post-doctorate research at the University of California, Berkeley, he joined the Brown University faculty in December 1983.

After 10 years at Brown, Suresh joined MIT in 1993 as the R.P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and later became the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering. In 2000, he was appointed head of the department of materials science and engineering. In July 2007, when he began his tenure as the dean of MIT’s School of Engineering, he became the first Asia-born dean of any MIT school.

During his time as dean at MIT, Suresh recruited a record number of women faculty members in engineering and promoted cutting-edge interdisciplinary study. As an accomplished engineer, he made medical discoveries by studying the mechanical nature of individual human cells and highlighting their connections to human disease states.

Suresh’s ability to pioneer innovation by combining academic disciplines set a precedent for the broad scope of research and career applications for MIT scholars, in engineering or otherwise. He remained at MIT until September 2010, when he was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate as director of the NSF.

As NSF director, Suresh focused not only on keeping the United States at the forefront of scientific development, but also on empowering current and future generations of scientists. The focus of his initiatives included training young scientists to balance work and family life, accelerating commercialization of university research, teaching researchers to transform their ideas into products, and emphasizing international scientific collaboration.

“Science and science policy are inextricably tied together, and Dr. Subra Suresh has power in both courts,” said Diane Turnshek, special faculty member in the department of physics. Beyond his leadership at MIT and the NSF, Suresh has been recognized worldwide for his work in the fields of engineering, life sciences, physical sciences, and medicine. He has co-authored over 240 research articles, collaborated on over 20 U.S. and international patent applications, and co-edited five books. He has also authored three widely used materials science textbooks: Fatigue of Materials, Fundamentals of Functionally Graded Materials, and Thin Film Materials.

“The MSE faculty are absolutely delighted to have such a distinguished scholar as Subra Suresh as a member of the materials science and engineering department and we look forward to supporting him in any way that we can,” Rollett said via email.

Suresh has been acclaimed by as one of the decade’s most eminent and most cited materials scientists worldwide. Suresh made additional contributions to the field of engineering through his development of strategies to optimize strength, ductility, and damage tolerance of materials using nanoscale internal interfaces; his discovery of nanocrystallization during room-temperature mechanical contact in metallic glasses; and his identification of key mechanisms that influence the growth of fatigue cracks in a wide variety of brittle and ductile materials.

Aside from his research highlighting important links between individual cell processes and human disease states, he has contributed to the medical field through his development of new microfluidic platforms for human disease diagnostics, therapeutics, and drug efficacy assays.

Among many honors, he has received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2012 Timoshenko Medal, the highest global recognition in the field of theoretical and applied mechanics, and the 2007 European Materials Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Federation of European Materials Societies. His work on nanobiomechanics was cited by Technology Review magazine as one of the top 10 emerging technologies that “will have a significant impact on business, medicine, or culture.”

“Carnegie Mellon University is a guiding force in the world today, and I celebrate that at its helm is a leader who has been trained as a scientist and engineer,” Turnshek said. “His record demonstrates that he’s thought deeply and scientifically about solutions to our global problems.”

With the dawn of the new academic year, Carnegie Mellon welcomes a president who is not only a distinguished scholar and esteemed leader, but also an individual who has remained committed to empowering scholars across disciplines.