By Lalit K Jha
India and the US have “a natural synergy” and similar aspirations and it is important for them to work together in the field of science and technology not only for the welfare of their own people but also to solve global problems, a top American scientist has said.
“(Through) global collaborations, we can then devise solutions that can be global, but also applicable for local situations,” National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Dr Sethuraman Panchanathan said.
Over the past few months, the India-US collaborations in the field of science and technology have gained momentum and is reflected in the fact that India’s two top Cabinet ministers – External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman – having meetings with Panchanathan at the NSF headquarters here.
In addition, Panchanathan has had meetings with Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh both here and in India and with Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan in India in the last few months.
The discussions with Sitharaman ranged around some of the key existing and futuristic areas of collaboration like AI (Artificial intelligence) for agriculture and COVID-19. “Two large democracies wanting their citizens to be prosperous, why should we not work together?” he asked.
Panchanathan, both India and the United States have “a natural synergy” and similar aspirations. “This a very important moment for global collaborations,” Panchanathan told PTI in a recent interview adding that it is time for like-minded partners to be able to work together and do some amazing things for individual nations, but also solve global problems.
“If you take climate, for example, climate not only brings together multiple disciplines that have to contribute, and also be able to arrive at inspirations from the problem being something that they can build new technologies, new solutions, new science, scientific approaches, and so on. But the context of global nature is very, very important,” he said.
Because of the fact that India and the United States share common values, common aspirations, and also the desire for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden to want to work together and “there is there is an impetus to do more, better and faster,” Panchanathan said.
“I’m very proud to say that we had 35 new projects that we launched when I was at IIT Delhi, within a year,” he said. “We are funding our US side of investigators, and India’s six digital technology hubs at the Indian Statistical Institute, IIT Bombay, Delhi, Chennai, and Jodhpur. These are the six institutions’ digital technology hubs,” he said.
The Indian-American scientist, who now is driving America’s scientific research and development, said he is passionate about developing and spreading innovation centers.
“It is very important to make sure that we’re investing in fundamental scientific research. We are making sure that there are generations of young talent, who are inspired by science and want to pursue scientific careers. And making that a very very exciting as well as a rewarding career,” he said.
“The second thing, I find this, you also have to make sure that you’re investing in things that make a difference to the context. You’re not trying to replicate something from a different place. But putting it in the context of what the nation needs…. and investing in building those engineering technology and science inspired solutions,” he said.
He said India is full of talented people.
“How do you get domestic talent to play for the country? ….how do you make sure that every bit of talent feels that they have the chance to express themselves to the fullest, and contribute to the nation, the future of the nation,” he said.
Panchanathan said there is a need to build an entrepreneurial culture that not only leverages science and technology but also leverages the context and comes up with innovative solutions.
These things are all simultaneously important and highly interrelated.
“So it’s very important, in my view: strong opportunities, strong innovation centers, strong science, fundamental science investments, and a strong desire to take the context and build solutions,” the top Indian American scientist said.
Panchanathan was born and raised in Chennai. Panchanathan is married to Sarada “Soumya” Panchanathan, an academic paediatrician and informatician, who has taught medical students, paediatric residents and informatics fellows. They have two children.