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Diatomist Karthick Balasubramanian bags T N Khoshoo Memorial Award

The award was given for his pioneering contributions to the study of diatoms or single-celled microscopic algae, which are found in rivers, wetlands, oceans and soil.

Karthick Balasubramanian has been awarded the T N Khoshoo Memorial Award for his work on the taxonomy and systematics of freshwater diatom flora. (Express)

Leading diatomist Karthick Balasubramanian has bagged this year’s T N Khoshoo Memorial Award for his work on the taxonomy and systematics of freshwater diatom flora. The award was given for his pioneering contributions to the study of diatoms or single-celled microscopic algae, which are found in rivers, wetlands, oceans and soil, and are a source of food for many organisms.

The award, named after world-renowned environmental scientist Dr Triloki Nath Khoshoo, is given to academicians or practitioners whose work made an impact in the fields of environment, conservation, or development.

Balasubramanian is presently working as a scientist with Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), Pune. Spending his early days in Rasipuram, Tamil Nadu, Balasubramanian wanted to become a station master till he was introduced to the world of Zoology and Botany by his school teachers.

“In my Class 11, my teachers introduced me to the world of botany and zoology. We had more hands-on sessions which I loved and the interactions of students with the teachers were insightful. I was a below-average student but scored 98 and 99 per cent in botany and zoology which encouraged me to study these further. Since I did not like mathematics, I did not take computer science engineering even though my father wanted me to take that. I pursued BSc in microbiology at KSR College in Tiruchengode. I can say that teachers are very important and they can make anybody a scientist,” Balasubramanian said.

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During his tenure at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru, Balasubramanian worked under renowned scientist Dr TV Ramachandra.

“I wanted to do a good MSc project as I was interested in pursuing my PhD. I wrote to hundreds of people across the country and got a response from Dr TV Ramachandra, who allowed me to present my thoughts on wetlands. Hard work is synonymous with him as he works 15 hours a day even today. I joined Dr Ramachandra as a project assistant to study the water quality of the Aghanashini, Kali and Bhetki rivers of the Western Ghats in the Uttar Kannada region of Karnataka,” he said.

Balasubramanian has described 106 new species or new combinations of diatoms from India. A species description is a formal description of a newly discovered species of organism in scientific papers. Diatoms even indicate the quality of water in which they grow.

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“Diatoms are responsible for 1/4 of global oxygen. They are the base of aquatic food chains. Diatoms also have biofuel potential. While there are several microalgae present in water, diatoms are unique because they are the only species having silica in their cells,” he said.

He disseminates the knowledge of science to the underprivileged in English and Tamil in schools.

“The idea of taking the teachings in science to schools and science communication comes from Dr Ramachandra. Science is for people, so it is the responsibility of each scientist to convey our discoveries to as many people as possible, especially to kids from rural areas. They have limited access to information and their way of looking at life is different from one who has a lot of access to information,” said Balasubramanian.

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The T N Khoshoo Memorial Award was started by the Khoshoo family and Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bengaluru in 2004 to honour Dr Khoshoo’s legacy.

First published on: 27-11-2022 at 13:26 IST
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