Three of six winners of the Infosys Prize 2021 announced by the Infosys Science Foundation here on Thursday are based in Bengaluru. The prizes were awarded to the winners for their contributions to science and research in six fields - Engineering and Computer Science, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences.
Chandrasekhar Nair, CTO of Molbio Diagnostics in Bengaluru; Mahesh Sankaran from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru; and Neeraj Kayal of Microsoft Research lab, Bengaluru were among the winners.
The award comprises a pure gold medal, a citation, and a prize-purse of USD 100,000, tax-free in India.
“The work of the laureates this year addresses some of the greatest challenges of our time, studying the effects of climate change on fragile ecosystems and contributing to more effective conservation strategies, designing a robust indigenous platform for rapid testing of deadly diseases like COVID-19 and TB, understanding the nuclear force to better harness nuclear energy for the benefit of humankind, and addressing issues such as sexual violence and jurisprudence in our society,” a release said.
Kris Gopalakrishnan, President – Infosys Science Foundation, said, “By recognising and celebrating the creativity and innovation of these remarkable individuals, we hope to inspire and encourage others and society at large. While results may not always be immediately apparent, we must remember that the long arc of knowledge, discovery, and invention will benefit mankind in unexpected ways as we have seen with mRNA vaccines during this COVID crisis. With the Infosys Prize, we not only reward apparent breakthroughs but also the far-reaching potential of the work of these stellar researchers and scholars.”
Among those in attendance at the virtual ceremony were the trustees of the Infosys Science Foundation: Mr. Gopalakrishnan, Srinath Batni, K. Dinesh, Narayana Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, Mohandas Pai, and S.D. Shibulal.
Winners were felicitated by the chief guest Gagandeep Kang FRS, Professor at CMC Vellore, Infosys Prize laureate 2016, and one of India’s leading virologists. Ms. Kang said, “In the past few centuries, and certainly in the future, the history of the world has been, and will be shaped by the countries that lead in science and intellectual exploration. For any nation and society, world-leading science is a matter of prestige and a contribution to excellence in the country and the world.”
Engineering and Computer Science: Chandrasekhar Nair, CTO of Molbio Diagnostics, for his development and large-scale deployment of TrueNat, a new point-of-care testing platform for PCR-based medical diagnostics. “Dr. Nair’s work, invented and produced in India, has enabled rapid testing for millions of COVID-19 and TB cases in India and other resource-limited countries around the world. PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) based testing enables direct testing of genes from patient samples. While it has become the gold standard for testing many infectious diseases, the high cost and complexity of testing platforms restricted its use to sophisticated labs,” the release said. Dr. Nair has created a battery-operated, rugged, field usable PCR device that requires minimal training and can be deployed at scale in resource-limited settings, it added, stating that the platform comprises a portable machine and disposable cartridges that can test more than 30 diseases under one hour.
Life Sciences: Mahesh Sankaran from NCBS, Bengaluru, in recognition of his work on the ecology of tropical savannah ecosystems, and his contributions to highlighting the biodiversity of important Indian ecosystems such as the Western Ghats. “Prof. Sankaran’s work and his involvement in international reports on climate change and biodiversity have informed and shaped rational conservation policy. His work on the ecology of tropical savannah ecosystems such as those found in the Western Ghats have a profound impact on conservation strategies as well,” ISF said.
Mathematical Sciences: Neeraj Kayal of Microsoft Research lab, Bengaluru, for his contributions to Computational Complexity. “His extensive, innovative work on algebraic computation includes the development of deep lower bound techniques proving limitations of this natural model, as well as designing efficient algorithms for reconstruction and equivalence of such algebraic circuits,” the statement said. Efficient algorithms are vital to modern life - from transportation, security to internet access, and Dr. Kayal’s theoretical work on complexity theory provides the mathematical tools to understand the efficiency and limitations of algorithms, the release said.
Humanities: Ângela Barreto Xavier from the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal, for her “deeply researched and sophisticated analysis of conversion and violence in the Portuguese empire in India, especially Goa.” Her extensive body of writings in both English and Portuguese have shown Dr. Xavier to be an important and original voice on colonial and imperial history.
Physical Sciences: Bedangadas Mohanty from the National Institute of Science Education and Research in Bhubaneswar, for investigations of the nuclear force. “At the Brookhaven National Laboratory and the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, he determined the transition temperature of the quark-gluon plasma to hadronic matter, observed heavy antimatter nuclei, nuclear spin-orbital angular momentum interactions, and other effects in quark-gluon plasma. The most devastating consequences of the nuclear force are well known, without a detailed understanding of how it works. By understanding the nuclear force in detail, we can better harness nuclear energy,” the release said, adding that beneficiaries include astronomers, nuclear chemists, physicists, and anyone who uses nuclear energy.
Social Sciences: Pratiksha Baxi from the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU, New Delhi, for her work on sexual violence and jurisprudence. “Dr. Baxi’s extraordinary ethnographic research and meticulous analysis reveal how gendered violence is reproduced by juridical practice. Her work brilliantly combines legal studies, sociology, and anthropology and has profoundly influenced a growing field of inquiry into the social life of law,” the release said.