Infosys Prize 2020: ‘Pandemic has given repository of virtual meets’

There are few, if any, sectors in the world that have not been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and research and academics are not an exception. Winners of the Infosys Prize 2020 agreed that the pandemic had not only impacted how research and academics are being carried out now, but has also had a telling effect on these areas for the future.

Interacting with journalists during a virtual press conference on Wednesday to announce the winners, Prof. Sourav Chatterjee from Stanford University, who won the prize for the Mathematical Sciences category, said with meetings going virtual, it had created a repository of recordings, including of great speakers, which could be saved for posterity. “The culture of academics is changing,” he said.

The other change is of multidisciplinary research coming to the fore. “There is a huge international concerted effort leading to the fight against the pandemic. It will be a great thing for science, though it is tragic,” he added.

The winner in the Engineering and Computer Science category, Prof. Hari Balakrishnan from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the reaction to the pandemic by society has been “extraordinary”, including how quickly the vaccine is being developed. This, he said, was not “magic,” but a result of years of hard work.

“The web is only 30 years old, but today, we feel like we are in the same room. Key applications will come later, built on research done now. The ability of society to react is based on research. Investment and research today will allow society to react to what comes next,” he said.

Dr. Prachi Deshpande from the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (CSSS), Kolkata, who won in the Humanities category added that there is hope that people will draw on a lot of work in social sciences and humanities as we move forward, pointing to how the present pandemic was also about the impact of the lockdown and other aspects.

The vaccine question

When asked about the race for a vaccine against the coronavirus, Dr. Rajan Sankaranarayanan from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, winner in the Life Sciences category, said, “We know we need multiple solutions. We will have multiple arsenals in our kitties.” He added that just as initial theories of “herd immunity” went bust, when we look at vaccination as a programme, there will be serious implementation issues. “It might be months or a year,” he said.

Geopolitics and research

Responding to questions on whether geopolitics will come into play in science and research, Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys and president of the Infosys Science Foundation, said good quality research requires an openness to ideas, discussions, learning from each other and other countries, and being open to share what we know with other countries. The pandemic came in the way of physical travelling of people, but due to technology, it has increased exchange of ideas among experts, he pointed out, adding that “the world will become much closer”. The issue of geopolitics will not hinder research as there are common issues such as sustainability, climate change and water availability, he added. “Though nationalism has become stronger in the last four or five years, there will be progress in science and technology to solve the world’s problems,” he said.

Winner in the Physical Sciences category, Prof. Arindam Ghosh from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), Bangalore, said the importance of self-reliance has become more important than ever because the technology we buy or get are not becoming certain any more.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 4:58:23 PM |

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