Engineering Science and Mechanics
Class of 1974, BS
A native of India, Satish Kulkarni’s career has taken him around the world and back home again since graduating with a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in 1973. An alumnus of Calcutta University and Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Kulkarni says his choice of Virginia Tech for his doctoral degree in 1969 was easy. He was attracted by the wide scope of the university’s engineering science and mechanics (ESM) department, which broadened his view of engineering, a field he says often can become too compartmentalized.
Attending Virginia Tech would be his first trip to the United States. Moving to the southern United States in the late 1960s to obtain his doctorate could have been challenging, but Dr. Kulkarni says his welcome by fellow students, faculty, and the community of Blacksburg was strong and constant. “Coming as an immigrant to the United States and getting a top-quality education” was the beginning of a successful career, Dr. Kulkarni says.
As a doctoral student under such advisers as Daniel Frederick, head of the ESM department from 1970 to 1989, Dr. Kulkarni says he was allowed to think creatively and independently in problem solving. This ability to think outside the box set the course for his career, including his recently ended assignment as counselor for science, technology, environment, and health affairs at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.
Dr. Frederick, now retired, recalls Dr. Kulkarni as a graduate student and the two men keep in touch. “He was an excellent student and researcher. … He was very receptive to exploring new ideas,” Dr. Frederick says. “He was a credit to our department. He’s done very well.”
The Embassy assignment is a point of pride for Dr. Kulkarni, who says he was honored to return to his native country, representing the interests of the United States, of which he is a citizen. His duties were diverse: He regularly interacted with leaders of Indian government, laboratories, universities, colleges and industries, analyzed and reported on Indian science, technology, environment, and health developments to the U.S. Department of State, and oversaw programs between the two countries that touched on nuclear and space research, climate change efforts, wildlife, health care initiatives involving avian influenza preparedness, polio eradication, and HIV/AIDS prevention and control.
Dr. Kulkarni also played an important behind-the- scenes role in the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act of 2008. Signed by leaders of both countries, the pact stipulates that India separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and place civilian operations under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. In exchange, the United States is to work toward full civil nuclear cooperation with India.
News of the October agreement was buried under headlines of U.S. federal bailouts of Wall Street firms and the presidential election, but Ishwar Puri watched closely. Head of Virginia Tech’s ESM department, Dr. Puri says Dr. Kulkarni’s work may be glossed over by reporting on the involved political heavyweights. “Playing a role in the nuclear treaty between the United States and India will have a lasting impact for years, if not generations,” Dr. Puri says. “The fact that we have a Virginia Tech alumnus in the middle of this is a proud accomplishment.”
Dr. Kulkarni also was fostering work of a different kind between the United States and India, helping to create a Virginia Tech-India initiative by bringing together government officials, scientists, and academic executives of both sides. The exact India-based university still is under consideration, but the program will encourage the exchange of research and studies between the two countries. Additionally, Dr. Kulkarni helped develop a joint Indo-U.S. effort in innovation and entrepreneurship in science and technology.
As of press time, Dr. Kulkarni’s position at the embassy was coming to an end and he was to remain in India for a few months, visiting family and sightseeing.
Prior to his appointment to the U.S. Embassy in 2006, Dr. Kulkarni served as executive director at the University of California’s Office of the President (UCOP) Laboratory Programs/Laboratory Management office. There, his duties were to align the efforts of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory and 10 university campuses. His work involved utilizing and leveraging the various facilities’ unique strengths to solve national problems and enhance collaborations between faculty/students and laboratory staff. He served as editor of the resulting UCOP publication, “University of California: 10 Campuses working with 3 National Laboratories - Unparalleled Contributions to Education, Discovery, and Public Service.”
Dr. Kulkarni already was familiar with the Livermore facility, having worked as division leader at the lab’s new technologies engineering division. His duties at Livermore included national and homeland security, nonproliferation, and energy and environment and biosciences programs with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and several universities, national laboratories, and industrial and foreign institutions. Before joining LLNL in 1978, Dr. Kulkarni worked for Materials Sciences Corp. in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, as program manager for the advanced composites division. He also has worked as a reactor internals computational analyst at Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Power Generation Division in Lynchburg, Virginia, and as a design engineer with Tata Consulting Engineers in Mumbai, India.
Dr. Kulkarni’s awards are many. He is the recipient of the Society of Sigma XI Research Award for outstanding graduate research, and the Society of Plastics Industry Design Award. He also won the first Jagdish Bose National Science Talent Search Award in India, an honor modeled after the Intel Awards popular in the United States.
He has authored many journal papers and reports covering a wide range of topics including composite materials, flywheels, and synchrotron radiation. He has organized forums on engineering novel materials, high energy density and ultrafast sciences, and performance-based design of nuclear energy systems for the University of California.
Dr. Kulkarni’s pride in his adopted home pours through a phone conversation, taking place thousands of miles apart. “The United States is a great country where someone from the outside can come and by working hard can have an impact,” he says. “The United States stands out among many countries in education because of this. It is why the United States continues to be the leader among nations.”
Dr. Puri says his first meeting with his now friend Dr. Kulkarni was “serendipity.” The two met at a National Academy of Engineering banquet in 2007. “I introduced myself as being from Virginia Tech, and Dr. Kulkarni said, ‘Me, too,’” Dr. Puri says with a laugh. As of press time, Dr. Kulkarni resided in New Delhi, India, with his wife, Madhuri. They have one son, Amrit, a Blacksburg-born lawyer in California, who is married with two children.
Class of: 1974
Year Inducted into Academy: 2009