The Institute - March 2021 - TI-7
TI: What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on
scientific research, labs, conferences, and research directions?
Panchanathan: The research community is displaying
resilience under tremendous pressure. It makes me proud
to be a scientist and an engineer. The role of NSF and other
science agencies is to enhance our support to this community. And that's what we're working to do. We are all facing
new and unique challenges as we deal with COVID-19, and
NSF is prioritizing the health and safety of our community.
NSF recognizes the many concerns related to the effects this
will have on NSF-funded research and facilities, and is committed to providing the greatest flexibility to support researchers'
health and safety. NSF is consistently updating its guidance
and resources to keep the scientific community informed.
Additionally, NSF reacted right away to
the pandemic through its Rapid Response
Research funding mechanism for nonmedNational Science
ical research to understand the spread of
COVID-19, provide education about the sciTitle: Director
ence of virus transmission, and encourage
the development of actions to address this
global challenge. To date, we have funded
Joined IEEE: 1987
more than 1,000 coronavirus research projects totaling more than $198 million.
and communication engineering from the Indian Institute
of Science in Bangalore. He also holds a master's degree
in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, also in Madras.
He began his teaching career at the University of Ottawa,
after earning his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering there in 1989. He left in 1997 to join ASU as an
associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
Because of his busy schedule, The Institute conducted
this interview via email in October. We asked him about his
vision for the foundation, how he plans to increase partnerships between industry and academia, and how his membership in IEEE has advanced his career. His answers have
been edited for clarity.
The Institute: What inspired you to become
Panchanathan: At a young age, I was curious
about basic science and how things work. My
father was my inspiration to become an engineer. He was a scientist, and his work was on
upper-atmospheric physics. His quest for scientific exploration, for discovery, for academic
achievement, for solving real problems, for
understanding the universe and how it works to
TI: What are your thoughts on the need for
how people work-all of that has always inspired
more students to study STEM subjects, and
me and motivated me to want to pursue scihow is the NSF addressing that?
Panchanathan: Ensuring inclusivity and broadening
ence and engineering.
My mom ensured that we valued education. So the combiparticipation is an important priority of mine. Diversity
nation of my mom and dad's implicit role modeling was the
enriches innovation to solve problems. We must inspire talideal incubator for me to pursue science and engineering.
ent in every corner of our nation and empower role models
at every level of leadership. I want students to feel empowered and excited to pursue science.
TI: Where would you like to see the NSF in five years?
Of course, NSF is not the only entity that can do that. A
Panchanathan: The foundation plays a critical role in U.S.
number of entities are coming together through partnerscience and engineering because it supports basic research in
ships, including other federal agencies, industry, nonprofits,
all these fields. We enable researchers to explore fundamenfoundations, states, and academia. I am deeply committed
tal scientific questions about everything from the forces that
govern the universe to the biological, chemical, and social
to partnerships in all forms.
So the question then becomes: How do you partner effecsystems that make us who we are.
tively across all entities to build better futures for our nation?
I have identified three pillars for my vision: advancing
It is going to take commitment and participation with all
research into the future, ensuring inclusivity, and continuplayers in the STEM community, including K-12 education
ing global leadership in science and engineering.
and informal learning environments. For example, the NSF
This is a defining moment. The intensity of global comIncludes program was created to identify best practices and
petition, the urgent need for domestic talent at scale, and
provide resources to people across the country working to
the broad support for science as the path for solving global
grand challenges all motivate us to strengthen discovery and
broaden participation in STEM.
One acknowledgement built into Includes is that broadentranslation. Partnerships and innovative mindsets ensure
ing participation is too complex a problem for one-size-fits-all
we rapidly seize opportunities and accelerate progress at
solutions. Something that works in one region or for one
speed and scale.
The Institute - March 2021
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