Science & Tech

Narayanamurti named director of Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program at Belfer Center

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Longtime dean replaces Holdren, who became Obama’s science adviser

Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti will be the new director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Belfer Center director Graham Allison announced April 1.

“Dean Venky,” as he is widely known, is the John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences and professor of physics at Harvard.  He succeeds John P. Holdren, who is currently on leave to serve in the Obama administration as assistant to the president for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Narayanamurti served as dean of the engineering and applied sciences division for a decade before stepping down last summer. He is credited with helping elevate the division to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) in 2007, reflecting Harvard’s heightened commitment to the applied sciences. At the time, SEAS replaced Harvard Kennedy School as the youngest school at Harvard.

At the Harvard Kennedy School, Narayanamurti also will be the Benjamin Pierce Professor of Technology and Public Policy.

“We will greatly miss John Holdren, but Venky is a most remarkable individual in his own right,” Allison said. “A distinguished physicist, Dean Venky’s true commitment to interdisciplinary work will be a tremendous benefit to the Belfer Center and the Harvard Kennedy School.”

Narayanamurti was an early champion of interdisciplinary initiatives and collaboration. He has worked with colleagues in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, and the Harvard School of Public Health to establish new partnerships and build relationships that transcend traditional academic boundaries. While dean, he increased the size of the SEAS faculty by 50 percent. Sponsored research grew 60 percent under his leadership.

“I am just delighted that Dean Venky has agreed to be the fourth director of the Belfer Center’s Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy,” Holdren said. “His interests, intellect, connections, and charisma make him a superb choice to lead this program in an era where its relevance to the biggest national and global challenges is becoming ever more evident.”

Allison noted that Narayanamurti is an “exceptionally fitting” choice to chair the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program because he follows in the footsteps of the founder of that program, Harvey Brooks. Brooks also assumed that position after serving as the dean of the then-Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard.

“I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of Harvey Brooks, Lewis Branscomb, and John Holdren,” Narayanamurti said.  “Some of today’s greatest societal challenges – from global health to information management to sustainability to national security to economic competitiveness – lie at the intersections of science, technology, and public policy. I am looking forward to working at this exciting interface and also in enhancing linkages between SEAS, Harvard College, and the professional Schools.”

Since stepping down, Narayanamurti has been on sabbatical at both Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Business School. During his sabbatical, he is doing research on management processes at scientific research institutions and their ability to serve as engines of innovation.

He has also been developing a new course called “Introduction to Technology and Society” for Harvard College students. At the Kennedy School, he plans to teach the introductory course in science, technology, and public policy.

“Venky’s leadership has had a genuinely transformative impact on engineering and applied sciences at Harvard,” said Harvard President Drew Faust when Narayanamurti announced his intention to step down as dean. “He has in many ways been both the architect and the chief engineer of Harvard’s newest school, and his vision, energy, and instinct for collaboration have strengthened our capacity and elevated our sights in a vital academic domain.”

Narayanamurti received his master’s degree in physics from the University of Delhi in 1960 and his Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University in 1965. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty, he was the dean of engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2003, he was appointed the first dean of physical sciences at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a position he held for three years while simultaneously serving as dean of the then-Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is also a former vice president of research and exploratory technology at Sandia National Laboratories and was the director of solid-state electronics research at Bell Labs.

Narayanamurti’s physics research has spanned many different areas of condensed matter physics. His current interests lie in nanoscience and nanotechnology. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Over the years, he has served on numerous advisory boards of the federal government, including national laboratories and industry.  He is currently a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control, which was started in 1980 as a permanent committee to bring the resources of the Academy to bear on these critical issues.