In historic move for Indian-Americans, Senate confirms Arati Prabhakar to head Office of Science & Technology

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Arati Prabhakar. Photo: LInkedin @arati-prabhakar

Indian-American Arati Prabhakar was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to take over as Director of the Office of Science & Technology Sept. 22, 2022, a historic moment for the community. Prabhakar becomes only the second Cabinet member alongside Vice President Kamala Harris in the current administration. She had been nominated by President Joe Biden on June 22.

Her confirmation as Director automatically makes her the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, making her the President’s Chief Advisor for Science and Technology, a co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and a member of the President’s Cabinet.She also becomes the first woman, immigrant, or person of color to serve as OSTP director.

Prabhakar, who came to the U.S. at the age of 3, joins scores of other Indian-Americans who hold high positions in the Biden administration.

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During her nomination, President Biden said, “Dr. Prabhakar is a brilliant and highly-respected engineer and applied physicist and will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy to leverage science, technology, and innovation to expand our possibilities, solve our toughest challenges, and make the impossible possible.” The President went on to add, “I share Dr. Prabhakar’s belief that America has the most powerful innovation machine the world has ever seen.”

Following the Senate confirmation, deputy Assistant to the President Dr. Alongdra Nelson, issued the following statement Sept. 22, “The historic bipartisan confirmation of Dr. Arati Prabhakar is a testament to her sterling track record of leadership and innovation stewardship, as well as her extensive expertise in science and technology policy. We are thrilled to welcome her to OSTP and begin a bright new chapter. …. Over the course of her career, Dr. Prabhakar’s leadership has propelled solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing American society.”

Prabhakar’s credentials are impeccable.

She has led two different federal R&D agencies and worked with startups, large companies, universities, government labs, and nonprofits across a wide variety of sectors to create powerful new solutions for critical challenges, the White House said.

Prabhakar served as director of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, from 2012 to 2017.

“At DARPA, she oversaw teams that prototyped a system for detecting nuclear and radiological materials before a terrorist can build a bomb, that developed tools to find human trafficking networks in the deep and dark web, and that enabled complex military systems to work together even when they were not originally designed to do so,” the White House noted. She also established a new office to spur novel biotechnologies.

“Under her leadership, DARPA kick-started the development of a rapid-response mRNA vaccine platform, making possible the fastest safe and effective vaccine development in world history in response to COVID-19,” the White House noted when Biden nominated her.

Prabhakar was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate earlier when she was nominated to lead the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where at 34 she became the first woman to lead the agency, which she headed from 1993 to 1997. She is credited with helping take from early seed stage to national scale the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to boost the competitiveness of small- and mid-size manufacturers, and also the Advanced Technology Program to stimulate early-stage advanced technology development.

Prabhakar spent 15 years in Silicon Valley both in technology development and as an investor. In 2019, she founded Actuate, a non-profit organization with the goal of bringing new actors to the table to develop solutions to the challenges of climate, health, trustworthy data and information technology.

Brought up in Chicago and Texas, Prabhakar got her electrical engineering degree from Texas Tech University.

She was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology, where she also earned an M.S. in electrical engineering.

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