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View from India: And the award goes to…

Infosys Science Foundation (ISF) has announced the winners of the Infosys Prize 2019 in six categories — Engineering and Computer Sciences, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences. Their groundbreaking research can be tapped for practical applications in daily lives

Antibiotics Quotient

A breakthrough that could result in a new range of antibiotics doesn’t seem to be very far off. Hyderabad-based scientist Manjula Reddy has arrived at groundbreaking discoveries concerning the structure of cell walls in bacteria. What was required all along is an insight into the various stages of the cell wall growth. This is required for understanding bacterial biology. Dr Reddy and her team have cracked the code. Though bacteria have been studied by the medical fraternity world over, Dr Reddy’s discovery could potentially help in creating the next frontier in antibiotics to combat antibiotic-resistant microbes. 

This is reason enough for Dr Reddy to get selected from various other nominations including those in medicine, biology and plant science. “Dr Reddy’s work on the development and growth of the cell wall in bacteria can be the opening of innovative antibiotics,” said jury chair Dr Mriganka Sur, while congratulating the scientist.

Novel Approach to Biomedical Applications

G Mugesh felt overwhelmed when he received the award for his seminal work in the chemical synthesis of small molecules and nano materials for biomedical applications. That’s understandable considering he comes from an agrarian background. “Growing up in a small village of just 20 houses, without proper access to electricity, it is overwhelming for me to come to this place,” said Mugesh, sharing his feelings.

Ironically his humble beginnings led him on in life till he began to focus on inorganic and physical chemistry. With time, his work led to the understanding of the role of trace elements selenium and iodine in thyroid hormone activation and metabolism. This research has led to major medical advances. Right now the thrust is on biomedical applications for cures in Alzheimer’s disease. He will also develop compounds that can regulate cardiovascular diseases.

Mugesh, Professor, Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore received the Infosys Prize 2019 for Physical Sciences.

Optimise Data & ML 

Databases, data mining and machine learning (ML) are areas that interest Professor Sunita Sarawagi. An abiding interest has propelled her towards research. It’s not just research in databases, data mining, ML and natural language processing (NLP), but important applications of these research techniques that has put the spotlight on Sarawagi.

No surprise  that the Infosys Prize 2019 for Engineering and Computer Science has been awarded to Sunita Sarawagi, Institute Chair Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay for her research in databases, data mining, ML and NLP, and for important applications of these research techniques.

The prize recognises her pioneering work in developing information extraction techniques for unstructured data. Professor Sarawagi’s work has practical applications in helping clean up unstructured data like addresses on the web and in repositories which then helps in more efficient handling of queries.

Queen of Science Steals the Show

The Mathematical Sciences category has had nominations from pure maths and computer science. But it’s mathematics, considered the queen of science, which topped the list. Siddhartha Mishra, Professor, Department of Mathematics, ETH Zürich has won the Infosys Prize 2019 for Mathematical Sciences. “Professor Mishra has applied math to device numerical tools for solving real world problems,” explained Professor Srinivasa SR Varadhan, jury chair.    

According to a press release, Professor Mishra's work has been used in climate models, in astrophysics, aerodynamics and plasma physics. He has produced codes for complicated realistic problems such as tsunamis generated by rock slides and waves in the solar atmosphere.

Anthropology Re-Visited

Anand Pandian, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Johns Hopkins University has been lauded for his imaginative work on ethics, selfhood and the creative process.

The Infosys Prize 2019 for Social Sciences has been awarded to Anand Pandian. Professor Pandian's research encompasses several themes such as cinema, public culture, ecology, nature and the theory and methods of anthropology.  His writing pushes the boundaries of how anthropologists render into words of the worlds they encounter. Professor Pandian's work on caste based identities can open a fresh chapter in the Indian scenario. 

South India: Down Memory Lane

South India over the centuries is something that has caught the attention of Manu V Devadevan of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mandi. Pre-modern South India with all its glory, history and heritage is something that has been documented by Devadevan. He critically reinterprets much of the conventional wisdom about the cultural, religious and social history of the Deccan and South India. Dr. Devadevan's primary research interests include political and economic processes in pre-modern South India, literary practices in South India and the study of ancient inscriptions from the region.

The Infosys Prize 2019 for Humanities is awarded to Manu V. Devadevan, Assistant Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mandi for his original and wide-ranging work on pre-modern South India.

“The Infosys Prize continues to recognise exemplary work in scientific research and enquiry. Many Infosys Prize laureates have gone on to contribute significantly in key areas like healthcare, genetics, climate science, astronomy and poverty alleviation, amongst other things,” said SD Shibulal, Co-founder, Infosys Limited and President of the Infosys Science Foundation. “Their work has immediate implications for the human race and the planet. We hope it catalyses social development,” he reasoned.

The Prize celebrates the success of the recipients in science and research by recognising their achievements in each category. The prize for each category comprises a pure gold medal, a citation and a prize purse of USD100,000 (or its equivalent in rupees) this year. The awards ceremony will be formally presented by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on 7 January 2020.

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