Several Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) combined won eight awards at the ceremony for the coveted Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology, in New Delhi. Close behind the IITs was the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru (IISc), which won seven prizes at the ceremony.
Given out in seven disciplines – Biological, Engineering, Medical, Chemical, Physical, Mathematical, as well as Earth, Atmosphere, Ocean and Plenary Sciences – the awards were given out on February 28, the National Science Day, which marks the 1928 discovery of the Raman Effect by India’s first Nobel Laureate in science, CV Raman.
In four of the seven categories, the winners were awarded a cash prize and a plaque by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The awards were presented for the years 2016, 2017, and 2018, with a total of 34 winners. A skewed gender-ratio was clearly visible – there was only one one woman among the awardees.
Aditi Sen, who works with the Harish Chandra Research Institute in Allahabad, was awarded in the physics category for her work in “quantum information and communication, including the formulation of a computable entanglement measure and a novel density-matrix recursion method”.
Most of the awards for scientists working with the IITs came in the fields of Engineering and Mathematics-three in each category. The awards won by IISc were more evenly spread, with the institute’s scientists winning the prize in the fields of Engineering, Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Chemical Sciences, among others.
Others won it for pioneering works that included designing models and algorithms to solve online problems and problems of clustering, scheduling and network design (Amit Kumar of IIT-Delhi), and the development of end-to-end carrier-class networking solutions and carrier Ethernet switch routers used in the national infrastructure (Ashwin Anil Gumatse of IIT-Bombay), and molecular mechanisms for red cell invasion as highly potent targets for malaria vaccine targets (Deepak Gaur of JNU, New Delhi).
Some of the other work that was felicitated included research on cancer cells, neuronal physiology, dynamic geological processes, alternate fuels, metamaterials and genome replication.
At the awards ceremony, the loudest applause came for the last winner of the ceremony. Ganesan Venkatasubramanian, who works with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bengaluru, received his award on crutches due to a disability in his legs. His work towards the psychiatric disorder schizophrenia that won Venkatasubramanian his award, for his “outstanding body of clinical research in schizophrenia spanning from pathogenesis to treatment and indigenous device development”.
The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize is among the most sought after multidisciplinary awards in the fields of science and technology in the country, given by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) since 1958. Some of India’s top scientists, like M S Swaminathan and C N R Rao have been recipients of this award in the past.