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Updated: November 13, 2013 00:33 IST

City origin scientist gets Israel prize for research on alternative fuels

Staff Reporter
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He shares the $ one million prize with Nobel Laureate George A. Olah

Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California (USC) G.K. Surya Prakash and Nobel Laureate George A. Olah were jointly presented with a $ one million prize for their research in the field of alternative transportation fuels by the Government of Israel.

The ‘Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation’, which is the largest prize in the world in the field of alternative fuels, was presented to the duo by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Tel Aviv late on Tuesday evening, Indian Standard Time. The prize in recognition of their work in the area of methanol economy was presented to them at a ceremony at the Bloomberg Fuel Choices Summit.

The methanol economy – a field of futuristic science of which Prof. Olah and Prof. Prakash are considered pioneers – envisions an economy in which methanol replaces fossil fuels.

‘Significant, prestigious’

Conferring the award, Mr. Netanyahu was quoted as saying in an official release: “We decided to take action and enact a multi-year move and an effort that is not dependent on the ups and downs of the oil market. This is the main thing that we are doing. This prize is significant and prestigious. It symbolises this commitment to the researchers and gives them a true return for their efforts.”

Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri said: “This is not the largest prize in the field of alternative fuels for nothing. Israel aspires to find a solution to the global challenge and both free itself from the dependence on oil and change the agenda on the regional-strategic, economic and environmental levels.”

Humble beginnings

According to his profile page on the IIT-Madras website, Prof. Prakash is one of the top 10 cited chemists of Indian origin with over 7,800 citations, 550 publications and 21 patents to his credit.

Born in 1953 at Vasanth Nagar in Bangalore, Prof. Prakash studied till his M.S. in government-run institutions. The sixth child of noted economics professor G.N. Krishnamurthy, he started off at the Government Primary School in Vasanth Nagar and then moved on to the Gandhi Nagar Higher Secondary School at Kumara Park. He pursued pre-university course at the Government Arts and Science College on Nrupathunga Road. And, after his B.Sc. honours at the Department of Chemistry at Central College, Prof. Prakash did M.S. from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras from where he moved to USC for his Ph.D.

Prof. Prakash is currently Professor and holder of the George A. and Judith A. Olah Nobel Laureate Chair in Hydrocarbon Chemistry at the USC. He is also the Scientific Co-Director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at USC. Speaking to The Hindu in the city, his younger brother G.K. Sateesh Kumar, a banker, said that his scientist brother was on the verge of giving the award ceremony a miss. “We lost our elder brother G.K. Vishwanath on Sunday and Surya Prakash was so depressed that he did not want to go to Tel Aviv. But, we all convinced him to go,” he said.

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