Studies of Human Disease at the Intersection of Engineering, Natural Science, and Medicine

Subra Suresh

Director, National Science Foundation

Videography by Nerine & Robert Clemenzi, Edited by Nerine Clemenzi
Copyright © Philosophical Society of Washington.  All rights reserved.

Dr. Subra Suresh (Photo by Justin Knight)


This presentation will provide an overview of some recent research as well as opportunities for new discoveries into human health and diseases through studies at the intersections of different disciplines. Specific examples of such multidisciplinary approaches will be presented in the context of human malaria, hereditary blood disorders and cancer. Wherever appropriate, discussions of state-of-the-art experimental results will be accompanied by multi-scale computational simulations and experiments. Implications for multidisciplinary approaches that rely on recent developments in engineering, biophysics, genetics and biochemistry will be examined in light of fundamental mechanistic understanding, diagnostics and therapeutics.

About the Author:

Dr. Subra Suresh is the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and oversees this unique federal agency’s annual investment of $7 billion in fundamental research and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. NSF is the only U.S. government agency dedicated to advancing basic research and education across the entire spectrum of disciplines and fields and at all educational levels. The goal is to keep the United States at the forefront of science and engineering, empower future generations of scientists and engineers, foster economic growth and innovation, and improve the quality of life for all Americans.

Dr. Suresh pioneered research to uncover the mechanical properties of materials. His most recent research has focused on the biomechanics of red blood cells and the changes wrought in their biomechanical properties by disease and genetic disorders. In 2006, Technology Review named his nanobiomechanics work as one of the top-ten technologies that “will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture.”

Dr. Suresh earned a BTech from the Indian Institute of Technology, an MS from Iowa State University, and a ScD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1981. Before becoming NSF Director, he was Dean of the Engineering School and Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at MIT. He joined MIT in 1993 as R.P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering where he has held joint faculty appointments in several departments. Prior to joining MIT faculty, he held appointments at the University of California-Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and Brown University. He has mentored more than 100 engineers and scientists and has been a strong and effective champion of increasing diversity at MIT. He has authored more than 230 research articles, several widely used texts, including Fatigue of Materials, and he is a co-inventor in more than 22 patent applications. He has been a consultant to a wide range of corporations, research laboratories, non-profit organizations and governments and served on several international study groups and advisory panels.

Dr. Suresh is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Indian Academy of Engineering, Indian Academy of Sciences, Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, German National Academy of Sciences, and Academy of Sciences of the Developing World. He is a fellow of the American Society of Materials International, the Materials Research Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Ceramic Society, the Indian Institute of Metals, and the Materials Research Society of India. He has received many awards, including, recently, the Padma Shri Award given by the President of India, General President’s Award of the Indian Science Congress, Eringen Medal of the Society of Engineering Science, European Materials Medal, and Acta Materialia Gold Medal. Dr. Suresh has received honorary doctorate degrees from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology and the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

Dr. Suresh has been married to his wife Mary since 1986, and they have two daughters, Nina and Meera.

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