View from India: Path-breaking research fetches laurels

The Infosys Prize 2022 event was held at the Infosys Science Foundation premises in Bangalore on 15 November.

The Infosys Prize is awarded by the Infosys Science Foundation (ISF), a not-for-profit trust set up in 2009. The annual award goes towards the outstanding achievements of contemporary researchers and scientists in six categories: Engineering and Computer Science, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences. Panels of jurors comprising world-renowned scholars and experts shortlisted the winners of the Infosys Prize 2022 from 218 nominations. Each prize consists of a gold medal, a citation and a purse of US$100,000. The award intends to celebrate success in research and stand as a marker of excellence in these fields. Over the past 13 years, ISF has recognised the accomplishments of some of the best and creative scientific research that has contributed to every aspect of human life.

The Infosys Prize 2022 in Engineering and Computer Science was awarded to Suman Chakraborty. A professor of Mechanical Engineering and dean of Research and Development at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, Chakraborty received the award for his pioneering work in elucidating the interaction of fluid mechanics, interfacial phenomena and electro mechanics at the micro and nano-scale. “The award is a great recognition not just for me, but for my parents, teachers and students. It should drive me to work better,” said Chakraborty. The objective is to work on scholastic breakthroughs and translate it for the betterment of the society, showcased by Chakraborty's invention of novel low-cost medical devices for sensing, diagnostics and therapeutics. This device is for advancing healthcare in resource-limited settings.

Jury chair Professor Arvind, Johnson Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Head Computer Science Faculty, Schwarzman College of Computing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has extended his congratulations and said that the device has potential for the Indian community. After all, last-mile connectivity or limited resources are challenges faced by those in need of healthcare services.

An understanding of the Indian Constitution has fetched Sudhir Krishnaswamy the award in the Humanities category. Krishnaswamy, vice chancellor at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, could spur others to work on legal bodies and perhaps demystify many issues for the public at large. He has put forth an argued account of the importance of the landmark ‘basic structure doctrine’, adopted by the Supreme Court in 1973, that guides and constrains various efforts to amend it, while also ensuring its stability in the face of executive and legislative outcomes in India’s political life. “Sudhir Krishnaswamy’s analytical observations of the Indian Constitution is an illuminating account,” added jury chair Professor Akeel Bilgrami, Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy and founding member of the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University.

Years of research and a sensitive outlook has helped Vidita Vaidya, professor and chairperson of the Department of Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. Professor Vaidya is credited for her ability to comprehend the brain mechanisms that are the underlying factor in such mood disorders as anxiety and depression. No surprise that she has topped the Life Sciences category. Her pursuit also includes understanding the signals engaged by the neurotransmitter serotonin in causing persistent changes in behaviour. Vaidya’s work is of contemporary relevance as the focus on mental health has become ever more urgent in the post-pandemic world. “Professor Vaidya’s analysis of early life stress and an insight into energy metabolism can probably be tapped to reduce psychiatric disorders,” reasoned jury chair Professor Mriganka Sur, Newton Professor of Neuroscience, director of Simons Center for the Social Brain, and investigator at Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mathematics is touted to be the oldest known science and queen of all sciences. Within that, the number theory is the queen of mathematics. Mahesh Kakde, professor of Mathematics at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, has understood this and appropriately his work fetched him the Infosys Prize 2022 in Mathematical Sciences. Professor Kakde’s deep work on the non-commutative Iwasawa main conjecture, his work on the Gross-Stark conjecture (with Samit Dasgupta and Kevin Ventullo), and his work on the Brumer-Stark conjecture (with Samit Dasgupta), resolves outstanding conjectures at the heart of modern number theory. “Professor Kakde’s number theory may perhaps find usage in the practical applications of algebra,” felt jury chair Professor Chandrashekhar Khare, from the University of California, Los Angeles.

A professor at the National Centre for Radio Astronomy in Pune, Nissim Kanekar has made acute observations of the galaxies and the universe. This is in an era – the so-called 'high noon' period – in which stars were being formed at a maximum rate. His astronomical investigations have placed the strongest limit on possible secular variation of the fine structure constant and the electron-to-proton mass ratio. Having put India’s radio astronomy capabilities on the world map, Professor Kanekar has been recognised in the Physical Sciences segment. Its applications soar sky high. “Following the Big Bang, we have a concentration of stars and galaxies. Besides that, it is detected that hydrogen is distributed across galaxies that form stars,” added jury chair Professor Shrinivas Kulkarni, George Ellery Hale Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences at Caltech and former director of the Caltech Optical Observatories.

Governance and accountability, women’s empowerment, the role of credit in the lives of the poor and the environment are of great significance for societies to progress. Rohini Pande, Henry J Heinz II Professor of Economics and director of the Economic Growth Center, Yale University, has grasped this. No wonder that ISF awarded her work in the Social Sciences category. Her findings, based on diverse methodologies, offer major promise and potential for policy design in emerging economies including India. “Your work could inspire young economists to work on issues for the the development of society,” said Professor Kaushik Basu, professor of Economics and the C Marks Professor of International Studies at Cornell University and former chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank.

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