The 2020 Infosys Prize winners. Photo: Twitter/@InfosysPrize.
Bengaluru: Six scientists were awarded the Infosys Prize 2020 on Wednesday for their contributions to research and innovation.
The annual award includes a pure gold medal, a citation and a purse of $100,000 or its equivalent in Indian rupees, the Infosys Science Foundation (ISF) said.
The winners were awarded during a virtual ceremony in six categories – engineering and computer sciences, humanities, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physical sciences and social sciences.
A panel of jurors comprising scholars and professors shortlisted this year’s winners from among 257 nominations.
“Developed countries have succeeded mainly by improving their higher education and research systems,” said Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys and president of ISF.
“The Infosys Prize contributes to this mission in India by honouring the best scientists and researchers, whose work has the potential to improve our world,” Murthy said.
The Infosys Prize 2020 for life sciences was awarded to Rajan Sankaranarayanan from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, for his contributions to understanding one of the most basic mechanisms in biology, the error-free translation of the genetic code to make proteins. Sankaranarayanan’s work has potential applications in the design of drugs such as antibiotics and immunosuppressants.
“Most of the biological processes occurring in a living cell, from the simplest of bacteria all the way to humans, are carried out by proteins. These are long polymers made out of very basic building blocks known as amino acids linked together like a chain of beads, as dictated by the genetic code, Sankaranarayanan told PTI.
“This chain then folds to form specialised molecular machines that carry out specific cellular tasks like metabolic reactions, regulation of genes, providing defence against pathogens, transporting cargo etc. Therefore, life depends heavily on the way the amino acids are assembled to form proteins,” he explained.
The prize in the engineering and computer science category was given to Hari Balakrishnan from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his broad contributions to computer networking, and his work on mobile and wireless systems. According to ISF, Balakrishnan’s commercial use of mobile telematics can improve driver behaviour and make roads safer.
In humanities, Prachi Deshpande from the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (CSSS), Kolkata, was awarded for her nuanced and sophisticated treatment of South Asian historiography.
Deshpande’s book Creative Pasts and many articles provide insights into the evolution of modern history writing in Maharashtra from the Maratha period onwards, and offer a novel perspective on the history of Western India, ISF said.
In the field of mathematical sciences, the prize was awarded to Sourav Chatterjee, currently at Stanford University, for his groundbreaking work in probability and statistical physics.
According to the jury, Chatterjee’s collaborative work has played a critical role in areas such as the emerging body of work on large deviations for random graphs.
The award in the physical sciences category went to Arindam Ghosh from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, for his development of two-dimensional semiconductors to build a new generation of electronic, thermoelectric and optoelectronic devices. Ghosh’s creation of a new platform for light-matter interaction impacts quantum technologies and sensing in a fundamental way, according to the jury.
The prize for social sciences was awarded to Raj Chetty of Harvard University for his research in identifying barriers to economic opportunity, and for developing solutions that help people escape poverty towards improved life outcomes.
Chetty’s research and extraordinary ability to discern patterns in large data have the potential to induce major shifts in the discipline of Economics, ISF said.