President Joe Biden has nominated Dr Arati Prabhakar as Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and assistant to the President on science and technology — which will propel the Indian-American scientist to a key White House position if the nomination is confirmed. This is the second PIO nomination in a week. A fortnight ago, Biden nominated Indian-American Radha Iyengar Plumb to the post of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.
If confirmed by the Senate, Dr Prabhakar will make history as the first woman, immigrant, or person of colour to head the OSTP. Her nomination was met with enthusiasm by the Indian-American community, which is already amply represented in the White House. Besides US Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the first Indian-American to hold the high office, the Biden administration also has a number of other Indian-Americans, including Biden’s Staff Secretary, Associate Attorney General and chief speech writer.
Who is Dr Arati Prabhakar?
Arati Prabhakar is an Indian-American scientist who was born in India and immigrated to the United States at the age of three. She is an engineer and applied physicist with several management and leadership roles to her credit. Dr Prabhakar has professional experience in a wide range of sectors – including start-ups, large companies, universities, government labs, and non-profits.
In 1993, she was appointed director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology by then-US President William Clinton. At the age of just 34, she became the first woman to hold the position and led a 3,000-person organisation. Prabhakar moved to the Silicon Valley in 1997, first as chief technology officer and senior vice president at Raychem, and later vice president and then president of Interval Research. From 2001 to 2011, she was a partner with U.S. Venture Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm.
Her first service to national security started in 1986 when she joined the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a program manager. DARPA is the research and development agency of the United States Department of Defense – widely looked up as the agency that shaped the world with breakthrough technologies like the internet and stealth aircraft.
Prabhakar served as director of DARPA from 2012 to 2017. At DARPA, 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 more.
According to a White House press release, it was under Prabhakar’s leadership that 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’s family immigrated from India to the United States when she was three years old. They first settled in Chicago and then moved to Lubbock, Texas, where she went on to get her electrical engineering degree from Texas Tech University. She then went on to complete her Master of Science in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. Caltech is also where she completed her PhD in Applied Physics.