Two IISc. researchers among six winners of Infosys science prize

The tenth edition of the Infosys Prizes was announced in Bengaluru. Six scientists and researchers in the fields of engineering and computer sciences, humanities, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physical science and social sciences were selected by a jury which included Nobel laureate Mr Amartya Sen, former Chief Economist Mr Kaushik Basu and eminent mathematician Mr Srinivasa S.R. Varadhan. The prize carries a gold medal, citation and a purse of $100,000. Among the winners, Mr Navakanta Bhat, professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and chairperson, Centre for Nano Science and Engineering, IISc, was named for his contributions to the field of engineering and computer science. “Mr. Bhat is recognised for developing novel electrochemical sensors that replace conventional enzyme and antibody based biosensors by fundamentally more stable sensors based on chemical ligands and metal ions. These can lead to better and cheaper testing for diabetes, liver and kidney functions,” read the jury citation. Ms Kavita Singh, Professor and Dean, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, was awarded the prize for humanities for her study of Mughal, Rajput and Deccan art, as well as her in-depth writing on the historical function and role of museums. The award for life sciences went to Ms Roop Mallik, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research,Mumbai. He was chosen for his work on molecular motor proteins, which are crucial for the functioning of living cells. In the field of mathematical sciences, Ms Nalini Anantharaman, professor and Chair of Mathematics, Institute for Advanced Study, University of Strasbourg, France, was named for her work related to “quantum chaos” and Mr S.K. Satheesh, professor, Centre for Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, and Director, Divecha Centre for Climate Change was awarded for his scientific work in the field of climate change. He received the award in the physical sciences category. In the social sciences category, Mr Sendhil Mullainathan from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business was named for his work in behavioural economics. The winners will be felicitated on January 5, 2019, in Bengaluru by mathematician Ms Manjul Bhargava. The Infosys Science Foundation was formed by the trustees of the software company, Infosys, in 2009 to encourage “basic science research.” Since its inception, the foundation has given away prizes to 62 scientists and researchers. From village to science lab From growing up in a small village in northern Karnataka, where even a radio was a novelty, to creating nanoscale transistor devices and low-powered sensor devices, Mr Navakanta Bhat, professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Chairperson, Centre for Nano Science and Engineering, IISc, has come a long way. And he credits this to his ability to dream big. “The first time electronics caught my fascination was when I was a high school-going child. My uncle, who was studying in REC Surathkal (today’s National Institute of Technology), had introduced a tape recorder in a very remote village in the State. It opened my eyes about what technology could do to transform lives. That is when I decided to pursue electronics,” he said, adding that his education in Kannada medium did not deter him to pursue his dream. He went on to study engineering from Mysore and later micro-electronics from IIT-Bombay. He worked for Motorola in the U.S. before joining IISc in 1998. “A group of us created the nano fabrication centre at IISc, which today is among the top 10 such centres in the world,” he said. The second winner from IISc, Professor Mr S.K. Satheesh, also shares a similar life journey; he grew up in a remote village in Kerala. “The turning point in my life was when I was selected in Indian Space Research programme at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. For the last two decades, I have been working at IISc on light-absorbing microscopic particles in the air which influence the energy balance of the atmosphere,” he said. “Mr. Satheesh’s work on measuring, quantifying and analysing the impact of black carbon aerosols are important to not only climate science but also to our society that has to mitigate and cope with climate change, possibly the most important threat to humanity,” said Mr Shrinivas Kulkarni, professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science, California Institute of Technology and the Jury Chair.


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