Subra Suresh, an engineer and materials scientist, told NSF staff members that he would be departing at the end of March and taking up his post at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, institution on 1 July. He will have served less than half of a 6-year term that began in October 2010.
As has become standard practice for Obama appointees, Suresh announced his departure in a lengthy letter that lists his many accomplishments. He has paid particular attention to expanding NSF's international footprint, integrating research and education across the foundation, and encouraging NSF-funded scientists to think harder about the commercial potential of their discoveries. He also promoted an approach, dubbed One NSF, that has tried to prod NSF's seven directorates and various program offices to cooperate in jointly funding proposals that span disciplines and tackle important societal problems.
NSF has traditionally received bipartisan support from Congress, which has translated into growing budgets despite the overall pressure to trim federal spending. It's also been one of three agencies targeted for major increases as part of a proposed 10-year doubling of federal support for the physical sciences, although Congress has whittled down the generous requests from the White House.
The 13th NSF director, Suresh's tenure is the shortest since Walter Massey's 2-year stint in the early 1990s. Cora Marrett, deputy NSF director and acting director for 6 months before Suresh arrived, is expected to be named acting director once again while the president seeks a replacement. His successor will need to be confirmed by the Senate, a process that is often lengthy but seldom contentious.