When Sudarsanam “Suresh” Babu was growing up in India, his family’s resources were meager. His mother―widowed when Babu was only 5—encouraged him and his siblings to be resourceful.
“She told me, ‘You have to use whatever resources you have to innovate.’”
He began making his own toys and learning by doing experiments explained in Physics for Entertainment, a treasured book his mother had given him.
“I didn’t know it was called science in those days,” he said, adding that those childhood experiences sparked a quest for knowledge and innovation.
At UT since 2013, Babu is the UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advance Manufacturing. Babu is one of 13 UT-ORNL Governor’s Chairs. Funded by the State of Tennessee, ORNL and UT, the program attracts renowned researchers from around the globe to Tennessee to broaden and enhance the unique research partnership that exists between UT and ORNL, and to serve as professors and mentors to UT’s up-and-coming STEM leaders. The prestigious Governor’s Chair program is led by UT and ORNL’s UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute, an organization that oversees and encourages UT-ORNL joint research, education and workforce development efforts.
Babu is a materials scientist whose research has broadened the scope of advanced manufacturing and additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. He has a joint appointment between UT’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering in the Tickle College of Engineering and ORNL’s Manufacturing Science Division. He also holds an adjunct professorship in UT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Bredesen Center.
Babu said he likes to think of himself as a catalyst, helping to make UT and ORNL leaders in the field of materials and additive manufacturing.
From 2019 to 2022 he served as the director of the UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. During that time, he also helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the UT–Oak Ridge Innovation Institute and served as its interim education director. He was also part of
UT’s leadership team that secured the DOE Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation Institute in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Since January 2022, Babu has been the senior advisor for research and STEM workforce development initiatives at UT. He advises the provost and the Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development on emerging national trends and opportunities to position UT as a thought leader in the national and global community.
Babu’s lengthy list of honors includes being a 2020 presidential appointee to the National Science Board (NSB). The board has two overarching roles: providing oversight and policy guidance to the National Science Foundation and serving as an advisor to Congress and the President on matters concerning science and engineering.
While he’s been involved in much high-profile research of his own, Babu said his focus has “always been on mentoring other people.” He’s especially proud that some of his students have gone on to work in―and even start companies―that have the ability to revolutionize different types of manufacturing.
Babu has his bachelor’s degree from P.S.G. College of Technology in India and his master’s degree in technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He earned his doctorate in materials science from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
Babu worked at UT and ORNL from the mid-1990s until 2005, then left for several years when he held leadership roles at Edison Welding Institute in Ohio, the NSF I/UCRC Center for Integrative Materials, and Ohio Manufacturing Institute at The Ohio State University.
When he’s not working, Babu enjoys running half marathons, reading and watching movies.
He and his wife, Anuradha “Anu,” have two grown daughters.