US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump
Photo: AFP

Washington: US President Donald Trump has picked Indian-American computer scientist Sethuraman Panchanathan to lead the prestigious National Science Foundation.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a US government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. Its medical counterpart is the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"Dr Sethuraman Panchanathan brings to this position a wealth of experience in research, innovation, academic administration, and policy as exemplified by his long and distinguished career," Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said.

Panchanathan, 58, would succeed France Cordova when her six-year term as the NSF Director ends in 2020. NSF Director is a Senate-confirmed position.

Panchanathan is currently the Executive Vice President and the Chief Research and Innovation Officer at the Arizona State University (ASU). He is also the Founding Director of the Centre for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing at the ASU.

Appointed to the National Science Board (NSB) in 2014, Panchanathan served as the Chair of the Committee on Strategy for the NSB. He also served as a member of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

"Dr Panchanathan brings numerous achievements and well-earned recognition including from his role as a member of the National Science Board," Droegemeier said. "As the Trump administration continues its undeterred focus on ensuring American global leadership in science and technology, Dr Panchanathan's commitment, creativity and deep insights will be instrumental in leading the National Science Foundation on its continued path of exploration and discovery," he said.

Panchanathan is also the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He was the Chair of the Council on Research of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and Co-Chair of the Extreme Innovation Taskforce of the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils.

He was appointed as Senior Advisor for Science and Technology by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in 2018.

In a statement, Panchanathan said he was "humbled and honoured" to be chosen as the NSF Director.

Panchanathan earned a bachelor's degree in Physics from the University of Madras in 1981 and in Electronics and Communication Engineering from the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in 1984.

He then earned his master's degree in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras in 1986 and PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Canada-based University of Ottawa in 1989.

"Dr Panchanathan's expertise and dedication will ensure that the NSF continues to be a driving force for US discovery, innovation, and technological growth. He will be a key partner in advancing research and development in the technologies that will benefit all Americans, from artificial intelligence to quantum information science and high performance computing," said Michael Kratsios, Chief Technology Officer of the United States."Bushfire smoke is particularly hazardous because of the high levels of tiny particles (PM2.5)."

The New South Wales state health department said it recorded a 48 percent increase in the number of people visiting hospital emergency rooms with respiratory problems in the week ending December 11 compared to the five-year average.

Visits spiked 80 percent on December 10, when air quality plummeted across Sydney prompting up to 20,000 residents to march in protest the following day.

The Climate and Health Alliance called on the government to take urgent action to curb emissions, saying climate change is worsening bushfires that are having "devastating impacts on human health".

"The air pollution events resulting from bushfires will become more and more frequent and are a result of climate change," it said.

"Our governments must act quickly to rapidly and deeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which we know are driving climate change." Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week made a rare admission that climate change is one of the "factors" behind the fires, but defended Australia's record on emissions reduction and failed to announce further measures to address the issue.

Six people have been killed, more than 700 houses destroyed and at least three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land burned this bushfire season.

More than 100 fires are currently burning in New South Wales, where efforts to contain a 400,000-hectare blaze near Sydney using backburning are believed to have sparked another fire that destroyed an estimated 20 homes.

A New South Wales Rural Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman told AFP the fire was "likely the result of embers from the backburning operation" but that work had been "absolutely critical" and many more homes could have been lost without it.

The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought that has also caused towns to run out of drinking water and forced farmers off their land.

More than 35,000 people living in a drought-stricken area of southern Queensland will be restricted to using a maximum of 80 litres (21 US gallons) of water each per day under "emergency" rules from Thursday, as local authorities begin trucking in water from other regions.

"The rain has gone around us now for three years. It's been heartbreaking," Southern Downs Council mayor Tracy Dobie told ABC.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Monday singled out bushfires and drought as the biggest domestic challenges for the economy, telling reporters in Canberra the dry spell had taken a quarter of a percentage point off GDP growth and reduced farm output by "a significant amount" over the past two years.

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