“Dr Prabhakar is a brilliant and highly respected engineer and applied physicist and will lead the office of science and technology policy to leverage science, technology, and innovation to expand our possibilities, solve our toughest challenges, and make the impossible possible,” President Biden said in a statement announcing the nomination. “I share Dr Prabhakar’s belief that America has the most powerful innovation machine the world has ever seen. As the Senate considers her nomination, I am grateful that Dr Alondra Nelson will continue to lead OSTP and Dr Francis Collins will continue to serve as my acting science advisor.”
Welcoming Dr Prabhakar’s nomination to the key role, Research!America, an influential non-profit medical and health research advocacy alliance, said that the US will be well served by her deep understanding of the pivotal role the federal government can play to advance innovation in science and technology.
Prabhakar has been unanimously confirmed by the US Senate earlier, to lead the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and was the first woman to hold that role. She later served as the director of the defense advanced research projects agency (DARPA), the birthplace of breakthrough technologies like stealth aircraft and the internet, the White House statement said.
If confirmed to lead the OSTP, Prabhakar would become the third Asian-American, native Hawaiian, or Pacific islander to serve in President Biden’s Cabinet, joining Vice President Kamala Harris and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai. The nomination is historic, with Prabhakar being the first woman, immigrant or person of colour nominated to serve as Senate-confirmed director of the OSTP.
Dr Prabhakar has led two different federal R&D agencies and worked with startups, large companies, universities, government labs and non-profits across a wide variety of sectors to create powerful new solutions for critical challenges.
Prabhakar served as director of DARPA from 2012 to 2017 where she oversaw teams that prototyped a system for detecting nuclear and radiological materials before a terrorist can build a bomb, that developed tools to find human trafficking networks in the deep and dark web, and that enabled complex military systems to work together even when they were not originally designed to do so, the White House statement added. “She also established a new office to spur novel biotechnologies. Under her leadership, DARPA kick-started the development of a rapid-response mRNA vaccine platform, making possible the fastest safe and effective vaccine development in world history in response to COVID-19.”
Prabhakar was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to lead the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), taking the helm when she was just 34, as the first woman to lead the agency. At NIST, which she led from 1993 to 1997, she helped take from early seed stage to national scale the manufacturing extension partnership to boost the competitiveness of small- and mid-size manufacturers, and the advanced technology programme to stimulate early-stage advanced technology development. She also reinforced NIST’s long-time mission in measurement science and technology that underpins commerce and high-quality manufacturing.
Bart Gordon, vice chair of the Research!America board and partner at K&L Gates LLP, said he had the privilege of working with Dr Prabhakar when he chaired the House science committee. “I believe she is a perfect fit for this vital role,” said Gordon.
Between her federal leadership roles, Prabhakar spent 15 years in Silicon Valley, helping bring R&D to deployment as a company executive and as a venture capitalist. Her work included components for consumer electronics and semiconductor process technology. In 2019, she founded Actuate, a non-profit organisation bringing new actors to the table to develop solutions to the challenges of climate, health, trustworthy data and information technology, and opening access to opportunity for every person.
Prabhakar’s family immigrated from India to the United States when she was three years old – first to Chicago and then settling down in Lubbock, Texas, where she went on to get her electrical engineering degree from Texas Tech University. She was the first woman to earn a PhD in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology, where she also earned an MS in electrical engineering. She started her career in the legislative branch as a Congressional fellow at the office of technology assessment.
She is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, besides being a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
Indian American Impact welcomes Prabhakar’s nomination
Indian American Impact, a prominent organisation that elevates the voices of Indian Americans, South Asians, and all historically excluded communities to ensure that every level of government reflects the diversity and values of the people it serves, is celebrating the nomination of Prabhakar as White House science advisor and US President Joe Biden’s unrelenting commitment to a diverse Cabinet and recognition of the Asian American community.
“Indian American Impact is thrilled to learn that President Biden intends to nominate Dr Arati Prabhakar as director of the office of science and technology policy. We applaud the President for his historic decision, which uplifts not only the exceptionally qualified Dr Prabhakar, but all South Asians and Asian Americans who aspire to reach new heights and become leaders within public service and the scientific community,” Neil Makhija, executive director of Indian American Impact, said in a statement.
“We have no doubt that Dr Prabhakar, the first woman, Asian American and immigrant to serve as OSTP director, will bring brilliance, determination and diverse leadership to her historic post as a member of the President’s Cabinet.”