Winners of Infosys Prize for Science announced

The jury included Amartya Sen, Kaushik Basu, and Inder Verma, among others

Published - November 16, 2017 01:06 am IST - Bengaluru

Ananya J. Kabir

Ananya J. Kabir

A statistician who used algorithms to analyse cells and biological interactions of diseases, a biologist working on the computation machinery operating in the human brain, and, a chemist who manipulated DNA to create nano-machines are among the winners of the 2017 Infosys Prize for Science.

The six winners of the 9th edition of the prize, instituted by the Infosys Science Foundation, were selected by a jury that included Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, India’s former Chief Economic Adviser Kaushik Basu, and molecular biologist Inder Verma among others. The Foundation announced the winners for the ₹65 lakh prize on Wednesday.

Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay, director, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, was the winner in the Engineering and Computer Sciences category for her design of new computer algorithms that could analyse large amounts of data and was used to find patterns in the genomic sequence. These analyses led to discoveries such as the genetic marker for breast cancer, genomic expressions in cancer, HIV and Alzheimer’s disease, states the citation by the jury.

“Prof. Bandyopadhyay sets an inspiring example of high-quality original research in computer science done entirely in India that has had a worldwide impact,” said Pradeep K. Khosla, Chancellor, University of California San Diego in the U.S. and the Jury Chair.

In the Life Sciences category, neurobiologist Upinder Singh Bhalla, from National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), was awarded for his ‘pioneering’ contribution to the understanding of the brain’s computational machinery. Using experimental and computational research, his work looks at sensory processing in a complex environment, particularly, the olfactory system of mammals. He becomes the third researcher from the Bengaluru-based NCBS to have obtained the prize.

For her groundbreaking work in DNA architecture, Yamuna Krishnan from the Department of Chemistry in University of Chicago was awarded the 2017 Physical Sciences award. Her pioneering work in the use of synthetic DNA to develop DNA nano-devices, whose applications can range from construction of cell-specific probes to even transport proteins to selected targets in medical use, said the jury.

In the Social Sciences category, Lawrence Liang, from School of Law, Ambedkar University, Delhi, and the co-founder of Alternative Law Forum was named for ‘Creative Scholarship’ on law and society.

Ritabrata Munshi from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, was the winner in the category of Mathematical Sciences, for his work on number theory, ingenious contributions to the Diophantine problem; while, Ananya J. Kabir was selected in the Humanities category for exploration of long-standing historical elements in colonial modernity, and ethnography of cultural and political life in Kashmir.

The prizes will be given to the six winners on January 10, 2018, in Bengaluru by Nobel laureate Kip Thorne.

Equal representation

For the first time in the nine-year history of the Infosys Prize, one can see equal representation of men and women in the winners.

Of the 55 winners of the prize, instituted by the Infosys Science Foundation in 2009, there have been just 12 women awardees and 43 male awardees. While in 2013, there were three women – including two for humanities – in the seven laureates; in the 2017 edition, there was an even split between men and women for the six awards.

“In the past 20 years, women have demonstrated that their contribution to science is no less than that of men,” said N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder, Infosys, and the trustee of the foundation.

K. Dinesh, co-founder, Infosys Limited, and president of the Board of Trustees at Infosys Science Foundation, said gender did not play a role in deciding the awards, and it was up to the jury and the chair to decide based ‘solely on merit’.

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