Speaker wraps-up chancellor’s speaker series

A former director of the National Science Foundation gave the final presentation in the chancellor’s speaker series on the future of research universities Wednesday.

Subra Suresh, the former director of the NSF, spoke to students and faculty about the creation of the foundation, and the technological innovations and advancements it has sponsored since its formation in 1950. Suresh also discussed how research opportunities, like the ones here at the University, have given rise to technology that has changed the world.

According to Suresh, the Morrill Act of 1862 was the first time government funding had been given to public educational institutes, like the University of Illinois, and had been divided for agricultural and engineering research.

Suresh explained that the following year, the National Academy of Science was created, thus beginning the relationship between government funding and research in the field of science.

After the NSF was created, researchers could then receive research grants to investigate new areas of science. The agency was created with the goal of developing science as a whole, therefore, it was often called “a non-mission agency by some people in Washington,” Suresh said.

This sort of open-ended definition of science is what Suresh believes to be the backbone of student researchers.

“A good idea that may have no application today may end up changing the world thirty years from now,” he said. “We put a man on the moon before we put wheels on the suitcase.”

Douglas H. Beck, a physics professor at the University, invited Suresh to attend the chancellors’ speaker series.

“Subra Suresh was chosen for the series because of his long and distinguished career as a teacher, scientist, and administrator,” he said. “He has been dean of Engineering at MIT, director of the National Science Foundation and is now president of Carnegie Mellon University,” he said.

Beck said science and technology is one of the University’s key missions.

“It plays an important role in the Strategic Plan recently developed following the Visioning Future Excellence discussions in which students, staff and faculty charted a course for our campus,” Beck said.

Ethan can be reached at [email protected]