Darsh T. Wasan Lectureship

Darsh T. Wasan Group Lectureship Series

The Darsh T. Wasan Lecture was established in 2008 in honor of IIT Motorola Chair and Vice President of International Affair Darsh T. Wasan's extraordinary contributions to the university over the last forty-five years. It seeks to bring some of the best and brightest internationally- known leaders to speak on cutting-edge topics of global issues. The lectureship series is made possible by donations from former students of Dr. Wasan, friends, and faculty.

2018 |2017 |2016 |2015 |2014 |2013 |2012 |2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008


"The Story of Alexa: AI for Daily Convenience"(62:19 minutes)

Rohit Prasad
Vice President and Head Scientist, Amazon Alexa

Rohit Prasad is vice president and head scientist, Amazon Alexa, the voice service that powers Amazon's family of Echo products, Amazon Fire TV and third-party offerings. Prasad leads Alexa research and development in Artificial Intelligence technologies aimed at making interaction with Alexa a magical experience for customers. Prior to Amazon, Prasad was deputy manager and senior director of the Speech, Language and Multimedia Business Unit at Raytheon BBN Technologies. In that role, he directed U.S. Government-sponsored research and development initiatives in speech-to-speech translation, psychological health analytics, document image translation and STEM learning. Prasad is a named author on more than 100 scientific articles and holds several patents. He earned his master's degree in Electrical Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, and a bachelor's degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology at Mesra, India.


The computing industry has been on an inexorable march toward simplifying human-computer interaction, and earlier this decade Amazon bet big on combining voice technology and artificial intelligence. In 2014, with the introduction of Echo and Alexa, Amazon created an entirely new technology category with an AI- first strategy and vision. Since then, Alexa has captured the imagination of customers across the globe, and the company has accelerated the pace of AI research and innovation to improve the experience for customers and developers. With a focus on real-world applications of AI at scale, Amazon's efforts today are applied to growing Alexa's intelligence and her understanding of the customer. Join Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist of Amazon Alexa, as he shares how recent science and engineering innovations are advancing Alexa's ability to be more competent, natural, and personal.


"Global Climate Change and U.S. Interests: What we know. What we expect. What should we do."(68:34 minutes)

John P. Holdren
Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under US President Barack Obama

John Holdren was President Obama’s Science Advisor and the Senate-confirmed Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from January 2009 to January 2017. He was the longest-serving Science Advisor to the President in the history of the position (dating back to World War II).

Holdren is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He was one of the first winners of a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship (1981) and is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2006-07).

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Holdren was a professor in both the Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, as well as CEO of the independent, non-profit Woods Hole Research Center, which he now serves as Senior Advisor to the Director. From 1973 to 1996 he was on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, where he co-founded and co-led the interdisciplinary graduate-degree program in energy and resources. He earned S.B. and S.M. degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from Stanford in aerospace engineering and theoretical plasma physics.

Holdren is currently the Teresa & John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of Environmental Science & Policy, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Harvard University


"Technology, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Social Change"(65:21 minutes)

Sam Pitroda
Chairman of the Pitroda Group

Sam Pitroda is an internationally respected development thinker, policy maker, telecom inventor and entrepreneur, who has spent more than 50 years in information and communication technology and related global and national developments. Mr. Pitroda came to the United States in 1964 to study at Illinois Institute of Technology, after receiving an M.S. in physics in India. After graduating with an M.S. in electrical engineering in 1966, he worked at GTE and, in 1974, founded Wescom Switching Inc. When Rockwell acquired Wescom in 1980, he became a vice president at Rockwell. Later he founded MTI Electronics in Milwaukee, Martek, Ionics, and Emnet in Chicago and then returned to India.

Credited with laying the foundation of India’s Technology and Telecommunications revolution in the 1980s, Mr. Pitroda has been a leading campaigner to help bridge the global digital divide, focusing on access to technology as the key to social change. During his tenure as Advisor to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Mr. Pitroda headed six technology missions related to telecommunications, water, immunization, literacy, oil seeds, and dairy. He was also the founding chairman of India’s Telecom Commission.

In mid 1990s, he founded WorldTel in London with the International Telecom Union (ITU) to help finance privatization of telecom in emerging markets. He invented mobile wallet in 1996 and set up C-SAM Inc., which was acquired by Master Card in 2013.

From 2005 -2009 Mr. Pitroda chaired India’s National Knowledge Commission and provided a blueprint for reform of the knowledge-related institutions and infrastructure. From 2009 he was Advisor to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India with the rank of a cabinet minister on Public Information Infrastructures and Innovations. He was also chairman of the National Innovation Council, Smart Grid Task Force, Railway modernization and Public broadcast reforms.

At present, he is founder, investor, and chairman of six startups and several not-for- profit foundations including Trans-disciplinary University, People for Global Transformation, Global Knowledge Initiative, and India FoodBanking Network. He is also a founding member of the UN Broadband Commission and Chairman of the m-powering initiative at the ITU.

Mr. Pitroda holds more than100 patents and has published and lectured extensively in US, Europe, India and Latin America. He is a member of the Indian National Academy of Engineering and a foreign member of the US National Academy of Engineering. Awards and recognition include a 2006 innovation award from The Economist, the 2007 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Communications Society Award for exceptional contributions in developing indigenous systems and telecommunications infrastructure in India, and honorary doctorates from universities in the U.S. and abroad. His biography was published in 1992 and his autobiography Dreaming Big was published by Penguin in 2015.


"Redesign Economics to Redesign the World"(87:38 minutes)

Dr. Muhammad Yunus
Chairman of the Yunus Center, Bangladesh

Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus is the father of social business and microcredit, the founder of Grameen Bank, and of more than 50 other companies in Bangladesh. For his constant innovation and enterprise, Fortune Magazine named Professor Yunus in March 2012 as “one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.”

In 2006, Professor Yunus and Grameen Bank were jointly awarded Nobel Peace Prize. Professor Yunus is the recipient of more than 54 honorary degrees from universities across 20 countries. He has received 112 awards from 26 countries including state honors from 10 countries. He is one of seven individuals to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom and the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Other notable awards include the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1984), World Food Prize (1998), The Prince of Austria’s Award for Concord (1998), Sydney Peace Prize (1998) and the Seoul Peace Prize (2006). Professor Yunus was chosen by Wharton School of Business as one of “The 25 Most influential Business Persons of the Past 25 Years”. AsiaWeek (Hong Kong) selected him as one of “Twenty Great Asians 1975-1995)” Ananda Bazaar Patrika (India) selected Professor Yunus as one of “Ten Great Bengalis of the Century (1900-1999).” In 2006, Time Magazine listed Professor Yunus under “60 years of Asian Heroes” as one the top 12 business leaders. In 2008, in an open online poll, Yunus was voted the 2nd topmost intellectual person in the world on the list of top 100 public Intellectuals by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (United States). In 2010, The New Statesman (UK) listed him as one of “The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures”. Professor Yunus has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Daily show with Jon Stewart, Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher, Hardtalk on BBC and The Simpsons. He has appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, Newsweek and Forbes Magazine.


"Biomaterials and Biotechnology: Controlled Drug Delivery Systems and Tissue Engineering"

Dr. Robert Langer
Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Robert S. Langer is the David H. Koch Institute Professor. Dr. Langer has written over 1,250 articles. He also has nearly 1,050 patents worldwide. Dr. Langer’s patents have been licensed or sublicensed to over 250 pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology and medical device companies. He is the most cited engineer in history.

Dr. Langer has received over 220 major awards. He is one of 7 individuals to have received both the United States National Medal of Science (2006) and the United States National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011). He also received the 2002 Charles Stark Draper Prize of the National Academy of Engineering, the 2008 Millennium Prize, the world’s largest technology prize, the 2012 Priestley Medal, the highest award of the American Chemical Society, the 2013 Wolf Prize in Chemistry and the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. He is the also the only engineer to receive the Gairdner Foundation International Award. Among numerous other awards Langer has received are the Dickson Prize for Science (2002), Heinz Award for Technology, Economy and Employment (2003), the Harvey Prize (2003), the John Fritz Award (2003) (given previously to inventors such as Thomas Edison and Orville Wright), the General Motors Kettering Prize for Cancer Research (2004), the Dan David Prize in Materials Science (2005), the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (2005), the largest prize in the U.S. for medical research, induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2006), the Max Planck Research Award (2008), the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research (2008), the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize (2011) and the Terumo International Prize (2012). In 1998, he received the Lemelson-MIT prize, the world’s largest prize for invention for being “one of history’s most prolific inventors in medicine.” In 1989 Dr. Langer was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and in 1992 he was elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and to the National Academy of Sciences, and in 2012 he was elected to the National Academy of Inventors.

Forbes Magazine (1999) and Bio World (1990) have named Dr. Langer as one of the 25 most important individuals in biotechnology in the world. Forbes Magazine (2002) selected Dr. Langer as one of the 15 innovators world wide who will reinvent our future. Time Magazine and CNN (2001) named Dr. Langer as one of the 100 most important people in America and one of the 18 top people in science or medicine in America (America’s Best). Parade Magazine (2004) selected Dr. Langer as one of 6 “Heroes whose research may save your life.” Dr. Langer has received honorary doctorates from universities in both the U.S. and abroad. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Cornell University in 1970 and his Sc.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974, both in Chemical Engineering.


"Harnessing Knowledge to Meet the Challenge of Climate Change"(64:05 minutes)

Dr. R. K. Pachauri
Director General of the Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, India

Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri is the Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Clinate Chage (IPCC), the scientific intergovernmental body that provides decision-makers and the public with an objective source of information about climate change. He also Director General of TERI (The Energy and Resource Institute), a major independent research organization providing knowledge on energy, environment, forestry, biotechnology, and the conversation of natural resources. Dr. Pachauri is a prominent researcher on environmental subjects, recognised internationally for his efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change and to lay the foundation for the masures that are needed to counteract such chage. He has been appointed as Senior Adviser to Yale Climate and Energy Institute (YCEI) from July 2012 prior to which he was the Founding Director of YCEI (July 2009 - June 2012). He is active in several international fourms dealing with the subject of climate change and its policy dimensions.

He was awarded the second-hightest civilian award in India, the Padma Vibhushan in January 2008 by the president of indea and received the Officer de la Legion d'Honneur from the Government of France in 2006. In 2009, he recieved an honorary Doctor of Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology. He has been conferred with The Order of the Rising Sun, GOld and Silver Star by His Majesty Akihito, Emperor of Japan, the Commender of the Order of the White Rose of Finland by the Prime Ministor of Finland, the Commander of the Order of Leopold II by the King of the Belgians, and the Mexican Order of the Axtec Eagle by the President of Mexico in June 2012.


"Challenges and Opportunities for Global Science"(72:04 minutes)

Subra Suresh, Sc.D.
Director, National Science Foundation

A distinguished engineer and professor, Subra Suresh was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010, and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to serve as the director of the National Science Foundation.

Prior to his appointment to lead the $7-billion federal agency, Suresh was dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His experimental and modeling work on the mechanical properties of structural and functional materials, innovations in materials design and characterization, and discoveries of possible connections between cellular nanomechanical processes and human disease states have shaped new fields in the fertile intersections of traditional disciplines. He has co-authored more than 240 journal articles, registered 22 patents, and written three widely used materials science books. In his leadership roles at MIT, Suresh helped create new state-of-the-art laboratories, the MIT Transportation Initiative, and the Center for Computational Engineering; led MIT’s efforts in establishing the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Center; and oversaw the recruitment of a record number of women faculty in engineering.

Suresh has been elected to ten different science or engineering academies including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition, he has been elected a fellow or honorary member of all the major materials research societies in the United States and India, and has been awarded seven honorary doctorate degrees. In 2006, Technology Review magazine selected Suresh as a top-ten researcher whose research “will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture.” His many other honors include the 2006 Acta Materialia Gold Medal, the 2007 European Materials Medal, the 2008 Eringen Medal of the Society of Engineering Science, the 2011 General President’s Gold Medal from the Indian National Science Congress, the 2011 Nadai Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the 2012 R.F. Mehl Award from The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, and the 2012 Timoshenko Medal from ASME. In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honors, for his work in science and engineering by the President of India.

Since joining NSF, he has established several new initiatives including INSPIRE (Integrative NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education), PEER (Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research, in collaboration with USAID), Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI), the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative, and the NSF Innovation Corps. In May 2012, he led the inaugural summit, at NSF, of heads of science funding agencies from 47 developed and developing countries that led to the creation of the Global Research Council, a virtual entity aimed at harmonizing global science.


"International Education Today"(76:51 minutes)

Alice P. Gast, Ph.D.
President, Lehigh University

Alice P. Gast, a renowned leader in higher education and a distinguished researcher in the study of surface and interfacial phenomena and was appointed the 13th president of Lehigh University in 2006. She is co-author of Physical Chemistry of Surfaces, a classic textbook on colloid and surface phenomena, and has presented named lectures at several of the nation’s leading research institutions.

Before coming to Lehigh, Dr. Gast served as the vice president for research and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and held the Robert T. Haslam chair in chemical engineering. She previously spent 16 years as a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory.

President Gast was named one of the top 100 “Modern Era” engineers in the country, under the category of “Leadership” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. In 2010, she was named to the prestigious post of science envoy by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the U.S. State Department. Additionally, Dr. Gast is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Also in 2010, she was awarded an honorary degree from The University of Western Ontario where she was described as “a scholar, a researcher and a leader who is a great inspiration to female and male students alike, who aspire to enter the profession of engineering.”

Dr. Gast earned her bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Southern California in 1980 and her master's and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University in 1981 and 1984.


"A Tale for Our Times: Something for Everyone about Climate Change and the Reasons for Climate Gridlock"(68:02 minutes)

Susan Solomon, Ph.D. (Chem 1977)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Susan Solomon is a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder,Colorado.She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from IIT in 1977 and her Ph.D. from UC-Berkley in 1981.

She is widely recognized as one of the leaders in the field of atmospheric science. She is well known for having pioneered the theory explaining why the ozone hole occurs in Antarctica, as well as having obtained some of the first chemical measurements that helped to establish the chlorofluorocarbons as its cause.

She received the National Medal of Science, which is the highest scientific honor in the U.S.She has also received the Grande Medaille, the highest award of the French Academy of Sciences,and she is a recipient of the prestigious Blue Planet Prize in Japan as well as the Volvo Environment Prize. A glacier in Antarctica has been named after her: Solomon Glacier. Along with Al Gore, Jr., she shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize in her role as co-chair of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Time magazine named Solomon as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in2008. In 2009, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She is a member of the U.S. Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, and European Academy of Sciences. She is a recipient of numerous honorary doctorates from universities in the U.S. and abroad.


“Membrane Technology for a Thirsty Century - from an Industrial Perspective of Energy, Sustainability, and Globalization”

Norman N. Li, Ph.D.
President, NL Chemical Technology, Inc.

Dr. Norman N. Li is president of NL Chemical Technology, Inc., Mount Prospect, Illinois. He has a distinguished career of 40 years in American chemical and petroleum industries. He joined Exxon Research and Engineering Co. after receiving his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1963. He also served as a consultant for the U.S. Apollo Moon Landing Project. He joined the UOP Co. in 1982 as its research director of Separations Science and Technology and later became the director of research at AlliedSignal Co. (now Honeywell). In 1995, recognizing the critical needs of clean water in many parts of the world, he founded the NL Chemical Technology, Inc. to develop cost effective advanced membrane technologies for water purification and desalination.

Dr. Li has made major technical contributions to the advancement of separation science and technology, in particular to membrane science and technology. He invented the “liquid membrane” and “mixed matrix membrane” for effective separation and purification of gas and liquid phases. He also invented an energy-saving reverse osmosis membrane for desalination applications. Dr. Li has made significant contributions to the worldwide implementation of industrial separation processes, which include membrane processes, adsorption processes, and for the manufacture of ozone-friendly fluorocarbons.

Dr. Li has more than 100 technical publications, 44 U.S. patents and 13 books edited. He has given invited lectures at 80 universities and industrial laboratories around the world.

He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering of U.S.A, the Chinese Academy of Science, and Academia Sinica. He is also the recipient of numerous engineering awards.


"Innovation in Global Healthcare, Education and the Arts"

David A. Edwards (Ph.D. ChE 1987)
Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University

Dr. David A. Edwards is the Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, considered one of the highest honors bestowed upon an engineer in the United States, three-time recipient of the Ebert Prize of the American Pharmaceutical Association, and winner of various national and international awards, including the AICHE Professional Progress Award for Outstanding Progress in Chemical Engineering. He is the founder of Advanced Inhalation Research (AIR) and also founded Le Laboratoire, a new art and science cultural center in Paris’s first arrondissement. In addition, he was elected as Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Literature of France in August, 2008, which is a significant recognition of his contributions to arts, literature and the propagation of these fields.


© 2011 Darsh Wasan Research Group
Chemical and Biological Engineering, Armour College of Engineering
Illinois Institute of Technology, Perlstein Hall, 10 W. 33rd Street Chicago, IL 60616
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