Professor Subra Suresh.
Professor Subra Suresh.

An international conference titled "Research, Innovation and Leadership at the Crossroads of Science, Engineering and Medicine" is taking place this week at the IMDEA Materials Institute, Madrid, Spain, to honor Professor Subra Suresh on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. More details about this conference, which is being supported by Elsevier and Materials Today, can be found at the website [].

During a highly distinguished academic and research career that started nearly four decades back, Suresh has consistently made--and continues to make--pioneering contributions in different scientific fields related to materials science and engineering. Additionally, he provided exemplary leadership through key positions in education, research and public service. A large number of students, post-doctoral scholars and researchers, nearly 100 in number, whom he worked with and mentored, now occupy prominent positions in academia, industry and government across the globe.

The conference brings together some of the leaders in the areas of materials, mechanics, biological materials, and academic and research administration together from across the globe. Through several keynote presentations and round table discussions, this conference provides an opportunity for the thought leaders in these areas to (re)connect and discuss the frontier topics in the aforementioned areas as well as the intersections of them, and identify wider issues pertaining to materials/mechanics research and education.

To date, Suresh authored/co-authored more than 300 scholarly research articles, three widely used books in materials science in the areas of fatigue of materials, thin film materials, and graded materials, and co-inventor in 23 patents. In all these, has brought his unique and distinct expertise of working at the interface of materials science and mechanics to address fundamental research questions at the intersections of engineering, physical sciences, life sciences, and medicine. Specifically, Suresh is world-renowned for his discoveries of how material structure evolves in response to mechanical loading, design of surfaces and material structure from the nano to macro scales to improve properties of materials for a wide variety of applications, and the connections between mechanical properties at the cell and molecular levels and the onset and progression of human disease states (see more details below). The purpose of this article is to provide a brief summary of his key scientific contributions with links to those seminal papers that were published in Elsevier journals. A biographical sketch of him is provided in the second section.

Research contributions

Professor Suresh began his research career by investigating the near-threshold fatigue crack growth in steels, with particular emphasis on crack closure due to environmental effects or overloads. This was later extended to aluminium alloys. His geometric model that considers crack deflection and closure induced by fracture surface roughness is a classic. Likewise, he was the first to investigate the growth rates of short fatigue cracks. Later, he extended his studies on fatigue crack growth to ceramics and demonstrated that the condition of kinematic irreversibility--whether it is dislocation mediated or through some other means--is sufficient for stable crack growth to occur under cyclic loading conditions. A natural progression of this work led to the examination of fracture in brittle solids that exhibit some nonlinear deformation through either microcracking, stress-induced phase transformation, or interfacial sliding in composites, which also led to the examination of fracture under mixed-mode conditions. Simultaneously, Suresh started examining plastic deformation and fracture in metal matrix composites reinforced either with particulates or continuous fibres. In all these, Suresh elegantly combined detailed experimental work on different types of materials with careful mechanics based analyses, so as to get a solid understanding of the micromechanisms responsible for plastic deformation, fracture, and fatigue. In essence this continues to be underlying theme of his research today, albeit applied to entirely different classes of materials such as red blood cells. His widely acclaimed books "Fatigue of Materials" and “Fundamentals of Functionally Graded Materials” (co-authored with Andreas Mortensen) neatly capture a majority of this first phase of Suresh's research contributions.

The second overall theme of Suresh's work, involving deformation in thin films, coatings, and layered materials, started early 1990s. This work led to the formulation of new experimental methods and algorithms for linking these material's mechanical characteristics with their performance and reliability, and culminated in the publication of two books: "Thin-Film Materials" and "Functionally Graded Materials." An important offshoot of working on small volume materials such as thin films and coatings is with regards to the probing of their mechanical properties. Instrumented indentation techniques, particularly nanoindentation, are particularly suited for this. Suresh has conducted extensive research on this aspect with notable contributions of methodologies for extracting elastic and plastic properties of materials from the indentation data, studies on a wide variety of materials such as graded, piezoelectric, and amorphous materials. This indentation-related work resulted in the discovery of nanocrystallization during room-temperature mechanical contact in metallic glasses and in-situ atomic resolution observations of nanocrystallization in glassy materials during mechanical fatigue. Further, it led to the development of a fundamental framework and criteria for the homogeneous nucleation of defects in materials and its application to nano-scale contact and also new strategies for materials design to optimize strength, ductility, and damage tolerance through the controlled introduction of nano-scale internal interfaces and surface modification methods in nanocrystalline and nanotwinned materials.

The third---and the most recent phase--of Suresh's research was on establishing important links between the nanomechanics of biological cells and human disease states, through experiments and computation. The development of an optical tweezers system for single cell mechanical property evaluation was a major breakthrough and brought in the needed precision to identify red blood cell deformability changes due to malaria. The related contributions and technology development led to the recognition by MIT’s Technology Review magazine in 2006, selecting Suresh as a “Top 10” researcher whose work will “have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture.” The discovery of the role of RESA [ring-infected erythrocyte surface antigen] protein in modulating the mechanical properties and rheological response of human red blood cells invaded by malaria parasites captured the molecular mechanism of early stage stiffening of these infected cells. Orchestrated the establishment of a new Elsevier journal ActaBiomaterialiain 2004, Suresh contributed a highly-cited seminal paper in its inaugural issue, describing the strong connections between disease states and cellular mechanical property changes in both cancer and malaria. More recently, his studies on sickle cell biorheology under transient hypoxia conditions brought new insights and understandings in this genetic disease. Suresh has also made significant contributions in developing new microfluidic platforms for human disease diagnostics, therapeutics and drug efficacy assays, enabling high-throughput single-cell deformability characterization as well as acoustic cell sorting and 3D manipulation.

Research, Innovation and Leadership at the Crossroads of Science, Engineering and Medicine - an international conference at IMDEA, Madrid in honor of Professor Subra Suresh


Subra Suresh is the President and the Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Pittsurgh, PA, USA. Prior to becoming the President of CMU on July 1, 2013, he served as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), starting from September 2010. Before that, Suresh served as dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Suresh received his bachelor of technology degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, in first class with distinction; a master's degree from Iowa State University; and a doctor of science degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. Following postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he joined the faculty of engineering at Brown University in December 1983, and was promoted to full professor in July 1989. He joined MIT in 1993 as the R.P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and served as head of MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering from 2000-2006 when he was also appointed as the Ford Professor of Engineering. In his leadership roles at MIT, Suresh helped create new state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories, the MIT Transportation Initiative and the Center for Computational Engineering; led MIT's efforts in 2006to establish the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Center; and oversaw the recruitment of a record number of women faculty members in engineering. His accomplishments as head of NSF included the creation of the Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps), the Global Research Council, the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide initiative, and Science Across Virtual Institutes program. Since becoming president of Carnegie Mellon in 2013, Suresh has led the establishment of several major programs and initiatives including: the Simon Initiative and the Global Learning Council to enhance the impact of technology-enhanced learning; the Brain Hub to further CMU’s interdisciplinary strengths to advance brain research; development of a new 4.3-acre quadrangle for the campus; the university’s largest infrastructure development project catalyzed by record fundraising outcomes during the past three years including the largest gift from an alumnus, the largest overseas gift and the two largest industry gifts in the university’s 115-year history; the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship; and the Presidential Fellowships and Scholarships Program.

Suresh is the first and only university president to be elected to all three US National Academies — the National Academy of Medicine (2013), the National Academy of Sciences (2012) and the National Academy of Engineering (2002). He is also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Additionally, he is an elected fellow of science and/or engineering academies in China, France, India, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Spain and is a fellow or honorary member of all the major materials research societies in the United States and India. He has been awarded 11 honorary doctorate degrees from academic institutions in the U.S., England, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, India and China. He was awarded the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honors, by the President of India in 2011.His alma mater, IIT Madras, recognized him as a Distinguished Alumnus in 1997 and conferred an honorary doctorate degree at its 50th Convocation held in 2013. In 2006, MIT’s Technology Review magazine selected Suresh as a “Top 10” researcher whose work will “have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture.” He has been offered prestigious chairs and professorships for visiting appointments at universities around the world including the TFR Swedish National Chair in Engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (1997-98);the Clark B. Millikan Chair (1999-2000) and the Gordon Moore Fellowship (2004) at the California Institute of Technology; the Senior Humboldt Research Award at the Max-Planck Institute in Stuttgart (2004-2005); the Brahm Prakash Chair at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore (2004); and the inaugural Centennial Professorship at the National University of Singapore (2006-2010).

Suresh’s many honors for his scholarly research during the past decade include: the 2006 Acta Materialia Gold Medal; the 2007 European Materials Medal from the Federation of European Materials Societies (the first non-European to receive this highest recognition from the federation); the 2008 Eringen Medal of the Society of Engineering Science; the 2011 General President's Gold Medal from the Indian National Science Congress; the 2011 Nadai Medal and the 2012 Timoshenko Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the 2012 R.F. Mehl Award from the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society; and the 2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science from the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia. In recognition of the impact of his research, the Industrial Research Institute (IRI) selected him for its highest honor, the IRI Medal, in 2015.

Suresh serves on several public and private boards and advisory councils. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Hewlett Packard Inc. and of the Battelle Memorial Institute. He is also a trustee of the Dietrich Foundation of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and a member of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council of Siemens AG. He has previously served as a director of LORD Corporation and several nonprofit organizations in the United States and abroad. Suresh also serves as a member of the Academic Research Council of the Ministry of Education and the International Academic Advisory Panel, established by the Prime Minister’s Office, in the Republic of Singapore.

Research, Innovation and Leadership at the Crossroads of Science, Engineering and Medicine - an international conference at IMDEA, Madrid in honor of Professor Subra Suresh