Brown launches new endowed symposium at frontiers of technology and society

Provost announces the establishment of biennial Subra Suresh Symposium at the Frontiers of Technology and Society, honoring the former NSF Director and Brown Professor at Large.

An anonymous gift to establish the Subra Suresh Symposium at the Frontiers of Technology and Society was announced Tuesday by Brown Provost Frank Doyle. The symposium series, planned to be a day-long event held every two years, will cover the broad, interconnected, and multidisciplinary intellectual domains of science and engineering that cover the technological and societal impacts of scientific discoveries.

The first symposium is slated for the fall of 2024 on the topic of sustainable energy.

“This biennial symposium offers an extraordinary opportunity to hear from Suresh, a brilliant scholar and former director of the National Science Foundation who began his legendary career as a world leader in higher education right here at Brown,” said Doyle. “We are grateful and honored to be able to share this symposium with our community and gain a better understanding of the connections between engineering and medicine."

Suresh is a scientist, engineer and leader with decades of distinguished and impactful leadership in academia, industry and government, recently returning to College Hill where he spent his first ten years as a faculty member beginning in 1983. During his tenure as professor of Engineering at Brown, he authored the textbook Fatigue of Materials, which became an authoritative reference in material science and mechanics.  In 2003, while serving as head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Suresh also published the book Thin Film Materials, coauthored with L. Ben Freund, former professor and Chair of the Division of Engineering at Brown University. Subsequently, Suresh was Dean of Engineering at MIT, and he served as president of Carnegie Mellon University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“I am pleased to be associated with this new symposium series established at Brown to address important connections between technology and society,” Suresh said. “I am also delighted to come full circle to Brown University, which played a pivotal role in launching and shaping my professional career. Several significant events in my personal and family life were also celebrated during the decade I spent at Brown.”

He was the first Asian-born American to serve as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), a position for which he was nominated by former President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate. During his tenure as NSF director, he emphasized the translation of basic research into applications that benefit industry and society, collaborative research at the interface of scientific disciplines and across geographical boundaries, and the creation of favorable work environments for women scientists and engineers.

Suresh established the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program aimed at translating research discoveries into industrial practice. Launched in 2011, this effort was praised by Harvard Business Review for using “lean startup techniques to turn scientists into entrepreneurs.” It has since been replicated by a number of government organizations in the U.S. and abroad, and it has led to the creation of over 1,500 startups in the US raising over three billion dollars in investment funding. At NSF, Suresh also helped to establish the Global Research Council and the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide program.

He has been elected to all three branches of the U.S. National Academies: Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. He has also been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors.