Indian-American to head America’s apex science body


An Indian-American scientist who graduated from the University of Madras in 1981, is today the director of the apex science body of the United States, the National Science Foundation.

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, who the U.S. Senate confirmed June 18, 2020, to be director of the National Science Foundation. (Photo: National Science Board at

Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan was cleared by the U.S. Senate June 18, to lead the NSF, an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950, “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense …”, according to the agency, which also says, “NSF is vital because we support basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.”

Immediately prior to the Senate confirmation, Panchanathan completed six years as a member of the NSF’s National Science Board, which works alongside the Director to pursue the goals of the agency.

Prior to becoming part of the NSB, Panchanathan was at Arizona State University for close to 23 years, in roles that included Executive Vice President of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise Development; Chief Research and Innovation Officer; Founder and Director of the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC);  and Foundation Chair in Computing and Informatics. The CUbiC’s flagship project iCARE, for individuals who are blind and visually impaired, won the Governor’s Innovator of the Year-Academia Award in November 2004. He was also instrumental in founding the Biomedical Informatics Department at ASU.

“Heartiest Congratulations ‘Panch’ on your unanimous confirmation by the US Senate as prestigious Director of US National Science Foundation! A proud product of IIT, IIS and University of Madras and Arizona State University,” tweeted India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, June 21.

Ellen Ochoa, chair of the NSB, said, “We look forward to partnering with Director Panchanathan and other leaders in S&E (science and engineering) to implement our Vision 2030 Roadmap to keep America’s lead in fundamental research, ensure that U.S. discoveries continue to empower U.S. businesses and entrepreneurs, and increase STEM skills and opportunities for all Americans, especially groups who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.”

In 2014, Panchanathan was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. National Science Board (NSB) which is part of the NSF.

He has also been appointed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE).

Panchanathan is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. He is also the Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Society of Optical Engineering (SPIE),

He is currently serving as the Chair-Elect in the Council on Research (CoR) within the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Panchanathan was the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Multimedia Magazine and is also an editor/associate editor of many other journals and transactions.

His research interests are in the areas of human-centered multimedia computing, haptic user interfaces, person-centered tools and ubiquitous computing technologies for enhancing the quality of life for individuals with disabilities, machine learning for multimedia applications, medical image processing, and media processor designs. Panchanathan has published over 425 papers in refereed journals and conferences and has mentored over 100 graduate students, post-docs, research engineers and research scientists who occupy leading positions in academia and industry. He has been a chair of many conferences, program committee member of numerous conferences, organizer of special sessions in several conferences and an invited speaker, panel member in conferences, universities and industry

On completing his Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and Computer Informatics University of Madras, Panchanathan went on to get a Bachelors in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, an M.Tech from the Indian Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa, Canada.



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