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Home > Smart Living> Innovation > Infosys Prize 2021 highlights best of science, research in India

Infosys Prize 2021 highlights best of science, research in India

This year’s winners tackled some pressing challenges: from climate change to creating an easy-to-use PCR device that can detect diseases like covid-19

Chandrasekhar Nair, chief technology officer of Molbio Diagnostics in Bengaluru, was awarded the prize in engineering and computer science for the development and large-scale deployment of TrueNat, a new point-of-care testing platform for PCR-based medical diagnostics.
Chandrasekhar Nair, chief technology officer of Molbio Diagnostics in Bengaluru, was awarded the prize in engineering and computer science for the development and large-scale deployment of TrueNat, a new point-of-care testing platform for PCR-based medical diagnostics. (Press handout)

Infosys Science Foundation announced the winners of the Infosys Prize 2021 on Thursday for contributions to science and research across six diverse fields -- engineering and computer science, humanities, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physical sciences and social sciences. The annual prize, one of the most prestigious science and research awards in India, recognizes exceptional talent for contributions in science, research, and technology.

The work undertaken by the winners this year took on some pressing challenges: studying the effects of climate change on fragile ecosystems, designing a robust indigenous platform for rapid testing of diseases like covid-19, understanding nuclear force better, and addressing issues such as sexual violence.

Also read: The divide between scientists and lay people is big everywhere

The laureates were chosen from a total of 201 nominations and felicitated by leading Indian virologist Professor Gagandeep Kang. The deciding jury of scholars, professors included Professor Arvind (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for engineering and computer science, Professor Kaushik Basu (Cornell University and former SVP, World Bank) for social sciences, Professor Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University) for humanities, Professor Chandrashekhar Khare (University of California, Los Angeles) for mathematical sciences, Professor Shrinivas Kulkarni (California Institute of Technology) for physical sciences, and Professor Mriganka Sur (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for life sciences.

Chandrasekhar Nair, chief technology officer of Molbio Diagnostics in Bengaluru, was awarded the prize in engineering and computer science for the development and large-scale deployment of TrueNat, a new point-of-care testing platform for PCR-based medical diagnostics. TrueNat has enabled testing for millions of covid-19 cases and the diagnosis of multiple infectious diseases including tuberculosis across the world.

PCR or polymerase chain reaction-based testing enables direct testing of genes (human or of infectious pathogens) from patient samples and is considered the gold standard for testing many infectious diseases, including covid-19. The high cost and complexity of testing platforms meant its use is restricted to sophisticated labs. But Nair created a battery-operated, rugged, PCR device that requires minimal training and can be deployed at scale in any setting. The TrueNat platform includes a portable machine and disposable cartridges, that can test more than 30 diseases in under one hour.

Mahesh Sankaran, from NCBS in Bengaluru, was awarded the prize in the life sciences category for his work on the ecology of tropical savannah ecosystems and his contributions to sustaining the biodiversity of important Indian ecosystems.
Mahesh Sankaran, from NCBS in Bengaluru, was awarded the prize in the life sciences category for his work on the ecology of tropical savannah ecosystems and his contributions to sustaining the biodiversity of important Indian ecosystems. (Press handout)

Mahesh Sankaran, from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru, was awarded the prize in the life sciences category for his work on the ecology of tropical savannah ecosystems and his contributions to sustaining the biodiversity of important Indian ecosystems such as the Western Ghats. Sankaran’s work on the ecology of tropical savannah ecosystems such as those found in the Western Ghats have also had a big impact on conservation strategies.

In mathematical sciences, the prize was awarded to Neeraj Kayal of Microsoft Research lab, Bengaluru, for his contributions to “computational complexity”. Kayal’s work on algebraic computation includes the development of deep lower bound techniques proving limitations of this natural model, as well as designing efficient algorithms for reconstruction and equivalence of such algebraic circuits. Efficient algorithms are key in many aspects of modern life: in everything from transportation, security to internet access. His work on complexity theory provides the mathematical tools to understand the efficiency and limitations of algorithms.

This year’s prize in the field of social sciences was awared to Pratiksha Baxi from the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, for her pioneering work on sexual violence and jurisprudence.
This year’s prize in the field of social sciences was awared to Pratiksha Baxi from the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, for her pioneering work on sexual violence and jurisprudence. (Press handout)

In physical sciences, the prize went to Professor Bedangadas Mohanty from the National Institute of Science Education and Research in Bhubaneswar, for investigations of the nuclear force. At the Brookhaven National Laboratory, in the US, and the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Mohanty determined the transition temperature of the quark-gluon plasma to hadronic matter, observed heavy antimatter nuclei, nuclear spin-orbital angular momentum interactions, and other effects in quark-gluon plasma. By understanding nuclear force in detail, we can better harness nuclear energy. This is a subject that also interests astronomers, nuclear chemists and physicists, among others.

Additionally, the humanities prize went to Dr Angela Barreto Xavier, from the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal, for her deeply researched analysis of conversion and violence in the Portuguese empire in India, especially Goa.

This year’s prize in the field of social sciences was awared to Pratiksha Baxi from the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, for her work on sexual violence and jurisprudence. Baxi’s analysis reveals how gendered violence is reproduced by juridical practice. Her work combines legal studies, sociology, and anthropology and has influenced a growing field of inquiry into the social life of law.

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