Six eminent scientists, including those from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard and Stanford University were awarded the prestigious Infosys Prize 2020 over a virtual ceremony on December 3.
They were selected from among 257 nominations by a panel of jurors composed of renowned scholars and professors and were given a pure gold medal, a citation, and a cash award of $1,00,000.
The awards fall under six categories — Engineering and Computer Science, Humanities, Life Science, Mathematical Science, Physical Science, and Social Science.
Here are a few details about the scientists who won the awards:
Professor Hari Balakrishnan
Hari Balakrishnan is a professor of computer science at MIT and leads the Networks and Mobile Systems group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
The award for Engineering and Computer Science was given to him for his ground-breaking contributions to developing wireless and mobile systems. He was also the first to develop a deep understanding and improve the performance of TCP on wireless networks.
Prof. Balakrishnan’s project, which used the mobility of sensor-equipped vehicles, detected the surface conditions of roads, which significantly improved driver behaviour and made roads safer.
Dr Prachi Deshpane
The prize for Humanities was awarded to the historian Dr Prachi Deshpande for her extraordinarily nuanced and highly sophisticated treatment of South Asian historiography. Her book Creative Pasts and her many articles examine the evolution of modern history writing in Maharashtra from the Maratha period onwards and offer an illuminating perspective on the history of Western India with implications going well beyond that region.
She studied at Fergusson College, Pune, and at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, before completing her PhD at Tufts University in 2002. She taught at several institutions in the USA before returning to India to take up her current position at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata.
The award for Life Sciences was awarded to Dr Rajan Sankaranarayanan, the Chief Scientist at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad. His work includes fundamental contributions towards understanding one of the most basic mechanisms in biology — production of proteins from messenger RNA.
Dr Sankaranarayanan’s work has potential applications to the design of drugs such as antibiotics and immunosuppressants.
Prof Sourav Chatterjee
Prof. Chatterjee is well-known to take up difficult problems and succeed in solving them by generating new methods or by improving an old one. He is one of the most versatile probabilists of his generation and has formidable problem-solving powers.
This professor of mathematics and statistics at Stanford University was given the award for Mathematical Sciences for his groundbreaking work in probability and statistical physics.
Prof Arindam Ghosh
The prize for Physical Sciences was awarded to Prof. Arindam Ghosh for his development of atomically thin two dimensional semiconductors that has advanced both fundamental concepts and domains of its applications.
A professor of Physics at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, he is also noted for his discovery of a new physical mechanism to convert light into electricity using hybrid structures of graphene and molybdenum disulphide.
The prize for Social Sciences was awarded to one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard University — Prof. Raj Chetty. He was hailed for his research that shed light on a range of important topics, from intergenerational mobility and education to tax policy and social insurance.
His work also demonstrates how to use big data responsibly, as an instrument for increasing human welfare whilst simultaneously protecting individual privacy. Though his work is focused on the US, it has potential for developing countries, including India.
According to news reports, during the virtual award ceremony, Narayana Murthy, the founder and president of Infosys, said that the Infosys prize and awards are focussed on honouring the best scientists and researchers whose work has the potential to improve our world.
Speaking during a press conference he said, “The trustees of the Infosys Science Foundation dream of an India where the poorest children can have reasonable access to nutrition, education, healthcare and shelter and have confidence in a better future. For that, we need well-thought-out and impactful ideas that are speedily executed without corruption.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)