Seo Nam-pyo is a Korean-American engineer. He was born on April 22, 1936 in Gyeongju-eup, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do. His father, Seo Du-su, received a doctorate in educational administration from Columbia University in 1952, then settled in the United States during the Korean War and worked at Harvard University. Seo Nam-pyo immigrated to Boston, USA, where his father worked, in 1954, while he was in his third year at Seoul National University High School (8th), and studied at Buckingham Brown and Nichols High School in Boston.
Seo Nam-pyo completed his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959 and received his master’s degree in 1961 from the same department. He became a US citizen on May 1, 1963, and received a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1964. After that, he worked as an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina from 1965 to 1969, and then transferred to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970. Upon his retirement from MIT, he became the Ralph E. & Eloise F. Cross Professor Emeritus. While Seo Nam-pyo was a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, he wrote books on tribology (the science of wear, friction, and lubrication), production engineering, and axiomatic design theory.
Seo served as director of MIT’s Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity and, from 1973, as director of the MIT-Industry Polymer Processing Program. He also served as Director of Surtech Corporation of New Hampshire, Director of Intelitec Corporation, and Director of Axiomatics Corporation and Mixalloy Corporation. From 1984 to 1988, he was the Assistant Director of Engineering for the National Science Foundation (NSF).
He returned to Korea to assume the position of president of KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), and served as its 13th president from July 2006 until February 2013. While president of KAIST, he also became the 3rd president of Korea Institute of Engineering Education Accreditation from October 2, 2007 to June 12, 2008.
Seo Nam-pyo received an honorary doctorate in science and technology from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1986, the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 1988, the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden in 2000, the University of Queensland in Australia in 2007, the Technion Institute in Israel in 2007, and Carnegie Mellon University in 2008.