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HomeScienceIndo-French math whiz & 'original' economist among winners of Infosys science prize

Indo-French math whiz & ‘original’ economist among winners of Infosys science prize

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The Infosys Science Foundation prizes seek to recognise stalwarts of the science and academia community for their contribution to the growth of the IT sector in India.

Bengaluru: From an economist credited with bringing behavioural economics “out of the ivory tower” to an Indian-origin Frenchwoman breaking new ground in mathematics and an atmospheric scientist giving new insights on climate change: The winners of the 10th annual Infosys Science Foundation prizes are all stars of their fields.

The prizes, announced Tuesday at a press event held in the offices of Infosys at Electronic City, Bengaluru, seek to recognise outstanding contributions across six fields: Engineering and Computer Sciences, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences.

The award consists of a pure gold medal, a citation, and a tax-free cash reward of $100,000 (approx. Rs 72 lakh, as on Wednesday morning).

K. Dinesh, president of the foundation, and Infosys co-founder Narayan Murthy opened the ceremony. Dinesh said the prize was an attempt by Infosys to give back to the science and academia community that had contributed to the growth of the IT sector in India.

The recipients were announced by young students from government and private schools in Bengaluru. A recording of the recipients’ first reaction and a message from the chair of the jury that selected them were played alongside the announcements.

The winners of the 2018 Infosys Science Prize are:

Navakanta Bhat: Engineering and computer science

Bhat won the award for his work on the design of novel biosensors based on his research in biochemistry, microelectronics, materials, and gaseous sensors that push the performance limits of existing metal-oxide sensors.

He is also recognised for his efforts to build state-of-the-art infrastructure for research and talent development in nanoscale systems aimed at devising technologies for space and national security applications.

He is a professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, where he also chairs the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering.

Jury chair Pradeep Khosla, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, said, “The committee especially appreciated his tireless efforts to build a world-class infrastructure for research and education in nanotechnologies.”

Thanking the foundation, the chair, his family, the IISc, and his students, Bhat said, “This award is a big honour for me.”

Also read: Winners of the 2018 science Nobel and controversies plaguing the coveted Prize

Kavita Singh: Humanities

Singh was awarded for her study of Mughal, Rajput, and Deccan art. She is also recognised for her writings on the historical function and role of museums, and their significance in the increasingly fraught and conflicted social world in which visual culture exists today.

She is a professor at and the dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

“My work has only just begun,” said Singh. “I am deeply grateful and honoured to the chair for choosing me.”

“As a chair of the jury, it is a great privilege for me to have the opportunity of congratulating Professor Kavita Singh for her extraordinarily creative work on art history and visual culture which has had such a profound impact on the subject,” said Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen.

Roop Mallik: Life sciences

Mallik received the recognition for his pioneering work on molecular motor proteins, which are crucial to the functioning of living cells.

Mallik has identified and measured the forces needed to transport large particles inside cells, and demonstrated their role in fundamental processes such as targeting pathogens for their destruction. He is an associate professor in the department of biological sciences at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.

“The prize recognises your pioneering work in unravelling the movement and control of traffic inside cells,” said jury chair Mriganka Sur, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Your discoveries of the mechanisms by which molecular motors move cargoes on cytoplasmic tracks are helping understand fundamental cellular processes like how our bodies target pathogens,” Sur added.

“I am very happy to know that I was awarded this,” Mallik said, “It is a big milestone in my life.”

Nalini Anantharaman: Mathematics

The Indian-origin French mathematician was awarded the prize for her work on “quantum chaos”. She is also recognised for her work on delocalisation of eigenfunctions on large regular graphs. She is a professor and chair of mathematics at the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Strasbourg, France.

“Her work on the deep relationship between classical and quantum systems, and the unexpected use of entropy to prove some of the hard results is impressive,” said jury chair Srinivasa S.R. Varadhan, an Indian-American mathematician at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.

“This is completely unexpected and a great honour for me to receive this award,” Anantharaman said.

Also read: Nobel winners Allison & Honjo have helped reverse cancer completely in some patients

S.K. Satheesh: Physical sciences

Satheesh is the second awardee from IISc this year. The meteorologist has been awarded the prize for his work in the field of climate change and black carbon aerosols. His work on light-absorbing microscopic particles in the air that influence the atmosphere over the Indian subcontinent has helped shed light on the impact of these particles on climate, precipitation, and human health.

He is a professor at the Center for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at IISc, and the director of Divecha Centre for Climate Change.

“Your work on measuring, quantifying, and analysing the impact of black carbon aerosols is important not only to climate science but also to our society that has to mitigate and cope with the biggest threat to humanity, climate change,” said jury chair Shrinivas Kulkarni, an astronomer at Caltech.

“For the last several years, I’ve been trying to link climate science with society, without which no effective policy change can be made,” said Satheesh. “I will continue my efforts.”

Sendhil Mullainathan: Social sciences

Mullainathan is a celebrated behavioural economist who is widely recognised as one of the most original thinkers of the field. His research papers include one where he and a fellow researcher sought to prove how higher excise taxes made smokers happier.

His path-breaking work has had substantial impact on diverse fields such as development, public finance, corporate governance, and policy design. Of late, he has also begun to deploy artificial intelligence in his efforts to get deeper insights into human behaviour. He is a professor of computation and behavioural science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

A major chunk of his work is relevant to India.

“Mullainathan is one of the most original minds in economics today,” said economist Kaushik Basu, the jury chair. “The prize is a celebration of his contributions across the breadth of the discipline.”

“I am very surprised and honoured by this award,” said Mullainathan.

The winners will be felicitated in January next year by mathematician and Fields Medal winner Manjul Bhargava.

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