NSF Director Visits University of Minnesota

Man smiling at table in room full of people

National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan visited the University of Minnesota Twin Cities on October 13 to meet with NSF-supported researchers and local business and economic development leaders and to tour NSF-supported projects on campus.  

Director Panchanathan began by co-moderating a roundtable on science, innovation, and workforce development along with US Senator Amy Klobuchar. Through discussion with researchers, industry, and workforce and economic development leaders, the event highlighted Minnesota’s innovation ecosystem, its commitment to equitable, diverse, and inclusive research, economic and workforce development, and the need to fully fund the vision for innovation set out in the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act.

Three people sitting at table, one wearing a UMN hat and smiling in front of screens saying UMN.
As Sen. Klobuchar (center) had promised in an earlier US Senate committee hearing, she and UMN Vice President for Research Shashank Priya (right) presented a UMN hat to NSF Director Panchanathan (left).

During a Town Hall meeting that followed, Dr. Panchanathan enthusiastically outlined his vision for NSF as a catalyst, enabler, and investor with two strands in its DNA: curiosity-driven, discovery-based and use-inspired, solutions-focused innovations. While NSF is a powerful engine, Dr. Panchanathan acknowledged that “the true work happens because of the amazing commitment all of you have, the amazing ideas you bring forth, and the talent that you inspire every day.”

Man stands near podium giving speech.
Director Panchanathan gives NSF presentation at Town Hall meeting.  

He lauded the University of Minnesota for being a model of what public universities can accomplish not only for the state but for the nation. He pointed to work being done at the NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers and other NSF-supported projects at the U of M as representative of this model and acknowledged Minnesota was part of two of 16 finalists for the current competition under NSF’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships.

Director Panchanathan then met with junior faculty who had received the prestigious NSF CAREER award for early career scholars and their graduate students, discussing a wide range of research directions these awardees were pursuing, from computer science to entomology to linguistics, and providing possible connections with other researchers across the US.  

The director had lunch in Walter Library’s historic Upson Room with some of the University’s industry partners, including large companies like Polaris Inc. and 3M and startups like Sarcio Inc., which uses stem cell injections to help heal joint cartilage, and Jord Bioscience, which delivers custom microbial solutions in the soil to improve agricultural yields and sustainability. Later he met with UMN startups Niron Magnetics, which is developing magnets that don’t use rare earth elements, Andialante, which is developing cheaper and smaller MRI machines, and Valerian Materials, which is developing degradable and recyclable plastic-making chemicals from renewable sources.

Two scientists in lab
Dr. Panchanathan tries his hand at coral sample freezing with Zongqi Guo, Ph.D.

In the afternoon, Director Panchanathan visited UMN-hosted NSF projects: the Advanced Technologies for the Preservation of Biological Systems (ATP-Bio) and the AI Institute for Climate-Land Interactions, Mitigation, Adaptation, Tradeoffs and Economy (AI-CLIMATE). At ATP-Bio, he saw demonstrations of cryopreservation techniques being used to conserve corals endangered by climate change and to freeze animal organs so they can be safely thawed for transplant. At the newly formed AI-CLIMATE, he heard how researchers plan to improve accounting for carbon in farms and forests, empowering carbon markets and informing decision-making through mapping and sensing technologies.

“It was great to showcase our researchers’ many advancements in tackling scientific grand challenges, in translation of their breakthroughs to the marketplace, and in partnering with industry and government to accelerate the pace of innovation,” said VP Priya. “I believe that Director Panchanathan and the NSF team saw the unique science and technology ecosystem in Minnesota that brings together academia, industry, and government to address national priorities.”

Those interested in learning more about Dr. Panchanathan and the NSF are encouraged to check out the video recording, audio recording, and unedited transcript of his Town Hall Presentation or browse this photo gallery of his visit