Infosys Science Foundation awards the Infosys Prize 2021

The laureates were chosen from a competitive pool of 201 nominations received this year

January 31, 2022
The Scitech

The Infosys Science Foundation (ISF) awarded the winners of the Infosys Prize 2021 for their outstanding contributions to science and research in six fields - Engineering and Computer Science, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences. The work of the laureates this year addresses some of the greatest challenges of our time, studying the effects of climate change on fragile ecosystems and contributing to more effective conservation strategies, designing a robust indigenous platform for rapid testing of deadly diseases like COVID-19 and TB, understanding the nuclear force to better harness nuclear energy for the benefit of humankind, and addressing issues such as sexual violence and jurisprudence in our society. Winners were felicitated by the Chief Guest, Prof. Gagandeep Kang FRS, Professor at CMC Vellore, Infosys Prize laureate 2016, and one of India’s leading virologists.

The award comprises a pure gold medal, a citation and a prize-purse of USD 100,000, tax free in India.

The laureates were chosen from a competitive pool of 201 nominations received this year. The winners of the Infosys Prize 2021 were identified by an accomplished jury of scholars and professors from some of the most prestigious universities across the world. The eminent chairs of the jury who announced the winners of the 13th Infosys Prize were:

Prof. Arvind (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for Engineering and Computer Science, Prof. Kaushik Basu (Cornell University and former SVP, World Bank) for Social Sciences, Prof. Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University) for Humanities, Prof. Chandrashekhar Khare (University of California, Los Angeles) for Mathematical Sciences, Prof. Shrinivas Kulkarni (California Institute of Technology) for Physical Sciences, and Prof. Mriganka Sur (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for Life Sciences.

The Infosys Prize, the highest prize for science and research in India, has a history of recognizing and felicitating exceptional talent for contributions in science, research, and technology. Several laureates of the Infosys Prize – past and present - have gone on to occupy positions of influence in academia and the top echelons of government, and win prestigious international honors like the Nobel Prize in Economics, the Fields Medal, and the Macarthur ‘Genius’ Grant.

The Infosys Science Foundation believes that, like those before them, the winners of the Infosys Prize 2021 will have a lasting impact on the world stage. By recognizing these researchers and celebrating their achievements, the Infosys Prize hopes to create role models who will encourage young minds to explore science and research as career options.

Mr. Kris Gopalakrishnan, President – Infosys Science Foundation, said, “The Infosys Science Foundation has recognized excellence for the last 13 years. By recognizing and celebrating the creativity and innovation of these remarkable individuals, we hope to inspire and encourage others and society at large. While results may not always be immediately apparent, we must remember that the long arc of knowledge, discovery, and invention will benefit mankind in unexpected ways as we have seen with mRNA vaccines during this COVID crisis. With the Infosys Prize, we not only reward apparent breakthroughs but also the far-reaching potential of the work of these stellar researchers and scholars.”

Among those in attendance at the virtual ceremony were the trustees of the Infosys Science Foundation Mr. Kris Gopalakrishnan (President – Infosys Science Foundation), Mr. Srinath Batni, Mr. K. Dinesh, Mr. Narayana Murthy, Mr. Nandan Nilekani, Mr. Mohandas Pai, and Mr. S. D. Shibulal. In addition to the trustees and jury members, the event was attended by distinguished scientists and academicians from India and overseas, as well as business leaders, young researchers, and students.

On the occasion of the Infosys Prize ceremony, Chief Guest - Prof. Gagandeep Kang said, “In the past few centuries, and certainly in the future, the history of the world has been, and will be shaped by the countries that lead in science and intellectual exploration. For any nation and society, world-leading science is a matter of prestige and a contribution to excellence in the country and the world. Recognition of exploration, innovation, and response to scientific and societal challenges is the goal of the Infosys Prize. Awards such as these create role models of science and scholarship that future generations can emulate. The Infosys Science Foundation goes beyond the awards to create the opportunities for sharing of the journey of exploration, the many failures and occasional triumphs, and the value of both experiences. It seeks to change the narrative around critical thought and exploration, so essential to our world today.”

The Laureates of the Infosys Prize 2021 are:

Engineering and Computer Science
Dr. Chandrasekhar Nair
The Infosys Prize 2021 in Engineering and Computer Science is awarded to Dr. Chandrasekhar Nair, CTO of Molbio Diagnostics in Bengaluru, for his development and large-scale deployment of TrueNat, a new point-of-care testing platform for PCR based medical diagnostics. Dr. Nair’s work, invented and produced in India, has enabled rapid testing for millions of COVID-19 and TB cases in India and other resource-limited countries around the world. PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) based testing enables direct testing of genes (human or of infectious agents) from patient samples. While it has become the gold standard for testing many infectious diseases, the high cost and complexity of testing platforms restricted its use to sophisticated labs. Dr. Nair has created a battery-operated, rugged, field usable PCR device that requires minimal training and can be deployed at scale in resource-limited settings. The platform comprises a portable machine and disposable cartridges, that can test more than 30 diseases under one hour, enabling point-of-care testing for early detection, which leads to faster recovery from diseases and breaks the chain of community spread.

Dr. Ângela Barreto Xavier
The Infosys Prize 2021 in Humanities is awarded to Dr. Ângela Barreto Xavier from the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal, for her deeply researched and sophisticated analysis of conversion and violence in the Portuguese empire in India, especially Goa. Her extensive body of writings in both English and Portuguese have shown Dr. Xavier to be an important and original voice on colonial and imperial history.

Life Sciences
Prof. Mahesh Sankaran
The Infosys Prize 2021 in Life Sciences is awarded to Prof. Mahesh Sankaran from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru, in recognition of his pioneering work on the ecology of tropical savannah ecosystems, his contributions to highlighting the biodiversity of important Indian ecosystems such as the Western Ghats. Prof. Sankaran’s work and his involvement in international reports on climate change and biodiversity have informed and shaped rational conservation policy. His work on the ecology of tropical savannah ecosystems such as those found in the Western Ghats have a profound impact on conservation strategies as well.

Mathematical Sciences
Dr. Neeraj Kayal
The Infosys Prize 2021 in Mathematical Sciences is awarded to Dr. Neeraj Kayal of Microsoft Research lab, Bengaluru, for his outstanding contributions to Computational Complexity. His extensive, innovative 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. There are many factors that go into the extensive process of making our modern-day technology possible, but one important tool that scientists and engineers use is an algorithm. Efficient algorithms are vital to modern life, one relies upon them for transportation, security, internet access, and life would be much hampered and slowed down without these. It is also important to understand the limitations, intrinsic and operational, of algorithms. Neeraj Kayal’s theoretical work on complexity theory provides the mathematical tools to understand the efficiency and limitations of algorithms.

Physical Sciences
Prof. Bedangadas Mohanty
The Infosys Prize 2021 in Physical Sciences is awarded to Prof. Bedangadas Mohanty from the National Institute of Science Education and Research in Bhubaneswar, for investigations of the nuclear force. At the Brookhaven National Laboratory and the European Organization for Nuclear Research he 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.

The most devastating consequences of the nuclear force are well known, without a detailed understanding of how it works. By understanding the nuclear force in detail, we can better harness nuclear energy. It also improves our understanding of highly energetic processes, such as those in the interior of stars of different kinds. There is no doubt that before long, mankind will venture beyond the solar system and encounter these and many other wonders of the universe first-hand. Prof. Mohanty’s work contributes to preparing us for the adventure! In the meanwhile, beneficiaries include astronomers, nuclear chemists, physicists, and anyone who uses nuclear energy.

Social Sciences
Dr. Pratiksha Baxi
The Infosys Prize 2021 in Social Sciences is awarded to Dr. Pratiksha Baxi from the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU, New Delhi, for her pioneering work on sexual violence and jurisprudence. Dr. Baxi’s extraordinary ethnographic research and meticulous analysis reveal how gendered violence is reproduced by juridical practice. Her work brilliantly combines legal studies, sociology, and anthropology and has profoundly influenced a growing field of inquiry into the social life of law.

Source: Infosys Science Foundation