Bengaluru: The Royal Society, London, selected 51 distinguished scientists from across the world as Fellows and Foreign Members on 16 April for their exceptional contributions in the field of science.
The Royal Society is the oldest scientific academy in the world and its Fellows are some of the world’s most eminent scientists.
Among this year’s group of Fellows are Indian clinician scientist Gagandeep Kang and three Indian-origin scientists — American-Canadian mathematician Manjul Bhargava, Australian mathematician Akshay Venkatesh and British microbiologist Gurdyal Besra.
Kang is the first Indian woman scientist to be selected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Before Kang, two Indian-origin women scientists — British microscopist Pratibha Gai (2016) and American microbiologist Lalita Ramakrishnan (2018) — had received the honour.
Among the other Indian-origin scientists in the list of 51 are Yusuf Hamied, who was elected as an Honorary Fellow, and atmospheric scientist Akkihebbal R. Ravishankara, who was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society.
ThePrint profiles these eminent scientists.
Gagandeep Kang is a clinician scientist and a professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Sciences at the famous Christian Medical College, Vellore (CMC-Vellore). She is the current executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad, which is an autonomous institution under the department of biotechnology of the science and technology ministry.
“The Royal Society stands for excellence in science. So, as a medical researcher who was trained in India and has worked in India for all but two years, I am delighted that the work that my research team and I have done has been recognised for its quality and impact,” Kang told ThePrint.
Kang is, however, no stranger to being inducted into scientific societies. She was elected to the Fellowship of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2010, the Indian Academy of Sciences in 2011, the National Academy of Sciences in 2013, the Faculty of Public Health in the UK in 2015, and the Indian National Science Academy in 2016. She has also won the Woman Bioscientist of the Year award from the Government of India in 2006.
Kang is renowned for her work on viral infections in children, particularly on rotavirus infections that cause high mortality and morbidity in India. She has shown that the Indian population naturally has a lower immunity to rotavirus infections. Her work on this subject has led to a better understanding of why rotavirus vaccines are not as effective in India as in the rest of the world.
Kang has also established a clinical laboratory for the evaluation of rotavirus efficacy, which trains scientists and vaccine manufacturers from India, China, and Brazil for indigenous vaccine manufacturing. She has won the Infosys Science Prize in Life Sciences in 2016 for her work on this subject.
Asked what advice she would give to women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), Kang said, “Take on big problems, explore every aspect thoroughly by yourself or in collaboration, and do not give up.
“There is really no difference in career or professional advice given to women and men. Our society needs to enable women to fulfil their potential, (and) not hold them back,” she said.
“On a more personal note,” Kang added, “women in leadership need to support and enable (other) women”.
Currently the R. Brandon Fradd professor of mathematics at Princeton University, Manjul Bhargava also holds adjunct professorships at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, and the University of Hyderabad. Bhargava was awarded the coveted Fields Medal in 2014 for developing powerful new methods in the geometry of numbers.
Bhargava obtained his BA degree from Harvard University in 1996, and won the Morgan Prize for his work as an undergraduate. He received his doctorate from Princeton University in 2001 where his thesis generalised Gauss’s classical law for composition of binary quadratic forms to other situations.
He is also a Sanskrit scholar and an accomplished tabla player, having learned the art under tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain.
Akshay Venkatesh is a professor of mathematics at the Institute of Advanced Study, US, with a research focus on counting and number theory. He was earlier a professor at Stanford University. He was also a Fields Medal winner of 2018 for his work on number theory.
After Bhargava, he is the second Indian-origin mathematician to win the Fields Medal, and the second Australian to receive the honour.
Venkatesh is also the only Australian to have won medals at both the International Physics and Mathematical Olympiads at the age of just 12. He had also won the Salem Prize for his work on Fourier series in 2017.
He got his PhD from Princeton University in 2002 after which he held a Clay Research Fellowship from 2004 to 2006 and then took up professorship at Stanford University in 2008.
Bardrick Professor of microbial physiology and chemistry in University of Birmingham, UK, Gurdyal Besra is best known for his multidisciplinary work on fighting tuberculosis and its related drug discovery. He won the Unilever Colworth Prize for “demonstrating outstanding contribution to translational microbiology” in his work in developing drugs that fight tuberculosis. He was previously trained in Colorado State University and the National Institutes of Health, US.
Born in Lithuania but brought up in Mumbai, Yusuf Hamied is the chairman of Cipla, a popular pharma chain founded by his father Khwaja Hamied. Yusuf studied in Cathedral and John Connon School and St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, before moving to Christ’s College in Cambridge to pursue his PhD.
Hamied is most well-known for his objective of providing generic AIDS drugs and other medicines for the most prevalent diseases in the developing world. He has led several efforts to eradicate AIDS from low and middle-income countries. He has also advocated for lowering drug prices of several diseases, including cancer, tuberculosis, and diabetes.
He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 2005.
Akkihebbal R. Ravishankara
A professor in the departments of chemistry and atmospheric science at Colorado State University, US, Akkihebbal R. Ravishankara is most notable for his work on the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere. He was at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Chemical Sciences Division (CSD) of Earth System Research Laboratory for three decades. Previously, he was a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
Ravishankara’s work on the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere mainly focuses on stratospheric ozone depletion, climate change, and regional air quality. His work has contributed to a better understanding of the ozone layer depletion, including the ozone hole. He also works to advance the understanding of the formation, removal, and properties of pollutants.
He received his BSc degree in 1968, MSc in 1970 from University of Mysore and PhD in physical chemistry from University of Florida in 1975.