Subra Suresh

Subra Suresh is a biological engineer and a materials scientist. On 1 January 2018 he was inaugurated as the fourth President of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where he is also the inaugural Distinguished University Professor. He was the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Dean of the School of Engineering at MIT from 2007 to 2010 before being appointed as Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) by Barack Obama, where he served from 2010 to 2013. He was the president of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) from 2013 to 2017.

Subra Suresh
4th President of Nanyang Technological University
Assumed office
1 January 2018
Preceded byBertil Andersson
9th President of Carnegie Mellon University
In office
1 July 2013  30 June 2017
Preceded byJared Cohon
Succeeded byFarnam Jahanian
13th Director of the National Science Foundation
In office
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byArden L. Bement Jr.
Succeeded byFrance A. Córdova
Personal details
Born1956 (age 6263)
Bombay, India
Alma materIndian Institute of Technology, Madras
Iowa State University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
AwardsPadma Shri (2011)
Benjamin Franklin Medal (2013)
Timoshenko Medal (2012)
Eringen Medal (2008)
European Materials Medal (2007),
NAE (2002),
NAS (2012)
NAM (2013)

Suresh was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering in 2002, to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 and to the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) in 2013. He is one of a very small number of Americans to be elected to three branches of the U.S. National Academies, and the only current university president to hold this distinction. He was the first Asian-born professor to lead any of the five schools at MIT and the first Asian-born scientist to lead the NSF.[1]

Early life and education

Suresh was born in 1956[2] in Mumbai, India, and graduated from high school in Tamil Nadu at the age of 15. In May 1977, he received his BTech degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in Chennai, graduating with a First Class with Distinction.[3] Suresh received a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University in 1979,[4] and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981, specialising in materials science.[3]

After postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory,[4] he joined the faculty of engineering at Brown University in December 1983.


Brown University

Suresh joined Brown University in December 1983 as Assistant Professor of Engineering and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in July 1986 and to Professor in July 1989. In 1985, he was selected by the White House to receive the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award. He also received the 1982 Hardy Medal "for exceptional promise for a successful career in the broad field of metallurgy by a metallurgist under the age of 30",[5] and the 1992 Ross Coffin Purdy Award from the American Ceramic Society for the best paper published in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society in 1990.[6] In 1991, his book Fatigue of Materials was published by Cambridge University Press.[7] According to Google Scholar it has been cited more than 5,300 times in scholarly publications, and has been translated into Chinese and Japanese and adopted as both a textbook and a reference work.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Suresh moved to MIT in 1993 as the R.P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. He led MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering from 2000 to 2006.[3] He served as Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Dean of Engineering from 2007 to 2010[8] and held MIT faculty appointments in Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biological Engineering, and Health Sciences and Technology.

In his leadership roles at MIT, he helped create new state-of-the-art laboratories, a new undergraduate curriculum in materials science and engineering, the MIT Transportation Initiative, and the Center for Computational Engineering; led MIT's efforts in establishing the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Center; and oversaw the recruitment of a record number of women faculty in engineering.[9] As Dean of Engineering, he launched or oversaw a number of MIT's major international programs in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

National Science Foundation

In June 2010, Suresh was nominated by U.S. President Barack Obama to be the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)[10] and was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate in September 2010.[11] The NSF is an independent federal agency with an annual (US)$7-billion budget. Its 2013 Fact Sheet stated that "[NSF's] programs and initiatives keep the United States at the forefront of science and engineering, empower future generations of scientists and engineers, and foster economic growth and innovation. NSF funds discovery, learning, innovation, and research infrastructure to boost U.S. leadership in all aspects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research and education. In Fiscal Year 2012, NSF supported more than 300,000 individuals in 1,895 institutions in every state in the United States".[12]

Suresh led NSF from 2010 to 2013.[13] He established a number of new initiatives including Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE); Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI); the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative; Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW); and the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps).[14]

During this time Suresh served as a member of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), a cabinet-level council comprising federal agency heads and cabinet secretaries. He co-chaired the NSTC Committee on Science and the Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education, and served as a member of the cabinet-level National Ocean Council. Suresh also chaired the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), which helped set priorities for coordinating future arctic research across the federal government. Under Suresh's leadership, IARPC released a multiagency five-year strategic plan.[15]

In response to an invitation from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Suresh established and chaired a Global Summit on Scientific Merit Review at NSF in May 2012.[16] This Summit included the participation, for the first time, of the heads of leading science funding agencies from nearly 50 countries.[16] Summit participants endorsed a Statement of Principles of Scientific Merit Review to serve as a basis for potential multilateral collaborations in the future,[17] and launched a virtual entity, the Global Research Council (GRC), to co-ordinate practices and enhance international scientific collaboration between developed and developing countries.[18][19] In an editorial in Science magazine, Suresh stated, "Good science anywhere is good for science everywhere".[20]

Commenting on Suresh's departure from NSF, President Obama stated, "We have been very fortunate to have Subra Suresh guiding the National Science Foundation for the last two years. He has shown himself to be a consummate scientist and engineer – beholden to evidence and committed to upholding the highest scientific standards. He has also done his part to make sure the American people benefit from advances in technology, and opened up more opportunities for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups. I am grateful for his service."[21]

Carnegie Mellon University

Suresh was appointed as the 9th president of Carnegie Mellon University in 2013 and served as president until 2017. During this time he also held faculty appointments in CMU's Departments of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Engineering and Public Policy, School of Computer Science, and in the Heinz College.

As President, Suresh worked to increase the numbers of women recruited to science, technology and mathematics disciplines.[22] He was quoted as saying “If the United States is to remain a leader in discovery and innovation, we must engage the enormous talent pool represented by our young women.”[23]

During Suresh's tenure, CMU settled a major patent infringement lawsuit against Marvell Technology Group. Suresh announced that the majority of the funds received by the university, expected to be about $250 million, would be dedicated to programs that "enhance the student experience".[24][25] Suresh also negotiated several major donations from philanthropists and corporations, including $20M from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build a new Center for Computer Science,[26], $67M from CMU alum David Tepper to enhance collaboration among CMU's schools and colleges[27], $35M from Tata Consultancy Services[28] and $5.5M from Uber.[29]

In early 2017 Suresh pledged support to CMU's students following President Trump's immigration ban.[30][31] In a letter circulated to students, Subra Suresh commented that he was "deeply troubled by some of the news out of Washington in recent days, and potential threats – explicit and implicit – posed to the work of so many students and scholars across the nation who were not born in the United States."[32] Suresh recounted his own journey as an immigrant to the United States writing, "I first came to the US at age 21 with a partially filled suitcase, less than $100 in cash, and a one-way airplane ticket purchased with a loan. Once in the US, I was able to pursue a series of extraordinary opportunities for scholarship and service without regard for my national origin — an experience that forged in me an unshakeable faith in the ability of this nation to help everyone to succeed, wherever they came from."[32]

Suresh has consistently advocated for diversity in higher education. In 2014 he commented to the Pittsburgh Gazette that "Diversity in the broadest sense — intellectual, cultural, ethnic, racial or national origin — intrinsically enhances artistic and technical innovation".[33]

Nanyang Technological University Singapore

Suresh was inaugurated as President of NTU Singapore in January 2018. He quickly launched an initiative to turn the NTU campus into a "smart" campus, with eco-friendly buildings, greater use of robotics, and driverless electric buses.[34] He has overseen the establishment of the Alibaba-NTU Joint Research Institute on artificial intelligence,[35] a collaboration with Volvo on driverless buses,[36] a second artificial intelligence collaboration with SenseTime,[37] and a collaboration with Surbana Jurong focused on urban challenges.[38]

On 27 August 2018, Suresh announced a 5-year plan with a number of major initiatives:[39]

  • Creation of a new university-wide postdoctoral fellowship program to attract up to 350 of the best young scholars world-wide to NTU;
  • Recruitment of up to 300 faculty members;
  • Introduction of 300 new four-year Ph.D. fellowships;
  • Introduction of 100 new named professorships;
  • Construction of a 40,000 gross sq. m (400,000 gross sq. ft.) academic building by 2021, which will be the largest wooden building in Asia;
  • Doubling of the energy harvested from the sun, to up to 10MW, to power up to 10% of the electricity needs of the NTU campus by 2019;
  • A reduction in campus-wide energy consumption by 35% and 50% by 2021 and 2025, respectively, compared to 2011;
  • Streamlining of academic and administrative services to improve operational efficiency; and
  • A new S$10M fund (Accelerating Creativity and Excellence) for multidisciplinary research.


Suresh's research is focused in three areas: modeling and engineering the mechanical properties of structural and functional materials, the mechanical properties of biological cells and molecules, and the implications of these properties for human disease. His work crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries in engineering, physical sciences, life sciences, and medicine. More than 100 students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scholars have been members of his research group, and many now occupy prominent positions in academia, industry, and government worldwide.

Publications, Patents

Suresh is the author or co-author of more than 300 research articles in international journals, co-editor of five books, and co-inventor on 26 U.S. and international patent applications.[40] He has authored or co-authored three books: Fatigue of Materials, Fundamentals of Functionally Graded Materials, and Thin Film Materials.

Suresh's research contributions at the intersections of engineering, physical sciences, life sciences, and medicine include:

  • Identification of key mechanisms that influence the growth of fatigue cracks in a wide variety of brittle and ductile materials;
  • Development of experimental and computational methods for optimising the mechanical performance of composites and compositionally graded materials;
  • Formulation of new experimental methods and algorithms to link the mechanical characteristics of thin films, coatings, and multi-layered materials with performance;
  • Study of nano-crystallisation during room-temperature mechanical contact in metallic glasses;
  • Development of strategies to optimise strength, ductility, and damage tolerance of materials through the controlled introduction of nano-scale internal interfaces;
  • Delineation of links between the mechanics of individual blood cells and human disease states;
  • Elucidation of the role of RESA [ring-infected erythrocyte surface antigen] protein in modulating the mechanical properties and rheological response of human blood cells invaded by malaria parasites; and
  • Development of new microfluidic platforms for human disease diagnostics, therapeutics, and drug efficacy essays.


In 2013, Suresh was elected to the Institute of Medicine. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering

In 2011, Suresh received the Padma Shri award, India's fourth-highest civilian honour, bestowed by the President of India.[41] Other honors include the 2006 Acta Materialia Gold Medal; the 2007 European Materials Medal, the highest honour conferred by the Federation of European Materials Societies; the 2008 A. Cemal Eringen Medal from the Society of Engineering Science; the 2011 General President's Gold Medal from the Indian National Science Congress; the 2012 R.F. Mehl Award from the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society;[42] the 2011 Nadai Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME); and the 2011 National Materials Advancement Award from the Federation of Materials Societies. In 2011, Science Watch/Thomson Reuters selected Suresh as one of the top 100 materials scientists worldwide for the decade 2000–2010.[43] He also received ASME's 2012 Timoshenko Medal, the highest recognition in the field of theoretical and applied mechanics, and the 2013 Alan Cottrell Gold Medal for his pioneering work on fracture and fatigue of materials.[44] He received the Franklin Institute's 2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science for "outstanding contributions to our understanding of the mechanical behaviour of materials in applications ranging from large structures down to the atomic level." and for showing "how deformation of biological cells can be linked to human disease".[45][46] In 2015, Suresh was awarded the IRI Medal by the Industrial Research Institute.[47]

Suresh is a member of the Royal Academy of Engineering of Spain; the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences; the German Academy of Sciences; the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences; the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World; the Indian National Academy of Engineering; the Indian Academy of Sciences; the Chinese Academy of Sciences; and the French Academy of Sciences. He is a recipient of 15 honorary doctorate degrees from universities in the United States, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, India, China, and the United Kingdom.

Suresh has been elected a fellow or honorary fellow of many materials societies in the United States and India, including the Materials Research Society; ASM International; the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society; the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the American Ceramic Society; the Indian Institute of Metals; and the Materials Research Society of India.

He served as an independent director of Battelle Memorial Institute from 2014 to 2017, and of the Lord Corporation in 2010. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of Hewlett-Packard since 2015.[48] Recently, he was nominated by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to be an independent director of the SGX Board.


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  5. "Hardy Award: Past Recipients". The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  6. "Ross Coffin Purdy Award". The American Ceramic Society. 2019. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
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  20. Suresh, Subra (25 May 2012). "Cultivating Global Science". Science. 336 (6084): 959–959. doi:10.1126/science.1224580. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 22628620.
  21. White House, Press Secretary (2 June 2013). "Statement from the President on the Departure of Subra Suresh". Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  22. Anderson, Nick (16 September 2016). "Carnegie Mellon pushes for more women in engineering and computer science". The Washington Post. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  23. "CMU's Proportion of Undergraduate Women in Computer Science and Engineering Soars Above National Averages-CMU News – Carnegie Mellon University". 12 September 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
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  48. "Corporate governance biography". Retrieved 22 October 2018.
Government offices
Preceded by
Arden L. Bement Jr.
Director of the National Science Foundation
Succeeded by
France Cordova
Academic offices
Preceded by
Jared Cohon
President, Carnegie Mellon University
Succeeded by
Farnam Jahanian
Preceded by
Bertil Andersson
President of Nanyang Technological University
1 January 2018 – present
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