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Prof G. Mugesh from IISc and five others win Infosys Prize 2019

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The Infosys Prize winners for 2019. Top (L–R): Manu V. Devadevan, G Mugesh, and Majula Reddy. Bottom (L–R): Siddhartha Mishra, Anand Pandian, and Sunita Sarawagi.

The Trustees of the Infosys Science Foundation (ISF) announced the winners of the Infosys Prize 2019 at an event held today at the Infosys campus in Electronic City, Bengaluru. The awards were presented in six categories — Engineering and Computer Sciences, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences. The winners include Dr. Manu V. Devadevan, Dr. G Mugesh, Dr. Majula Reddy, Dr. Siddhartha Mishra, Dr. Anand Pandian and Dr. Sunita Sarawagi.

The Infosys Prize 2019 for Engineering and Computer Science was awarded to Dr Sunita Sarawagi, Institute Chair Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. She was awarded for her research in databases, data mining, machine learning and natural language processing, and for important applications of these research techniques. The prize recognizes her pioneering work in developing information extraction techniques for unstructured data. Prof. Sarawagi’s work has practical applications in helping clean up unstructured data like addresses on the web and in repositories, easing the handling of queries.

In the Humanities category, the Prize was awarded to Dr Manu V. Devadevan, Assistant Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi. His work critically reinterprets much of the conventional wisdom about the cultural, religious and social history of the Deccan and South India. Dr. Devadevan's primary research interests include political and economic processes in pre-modern South India, literary practices in South India and the study of ancient inscriptions from the region.

Dr Manjula Reddy, Chief Scientist, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, received the award in the Life Sciences category for her groundbreaking discoveries concerning the structure of cell walls in bacteria. Dr. Reddy and her colleagues have revealed critical steps of cell wall growth that are fundamental for understanding bacterial biology. This work could potentially help in creating a new class of antibiotics to combat antibiotic resistant microbes. 

The 2019 prize for Mathematical Sciences was awarded to Dr Siddhartha Mishra, Professor, Department of Mathematics, ETH Zürich, for his outstanding contributions to Applied Mathematics, particularly for designing numerical tools for solving problems in the real world. Prof. Mishra's work has been used in climate models, astrophysics, aerodynamics, and plasma physics. He has produced computer programs for complicated realistic problems such as tsunamis generated by rock slides, and waves in the solar atmosphere.

In the Physical Sciences category, Dr G. Mugesh, Professor, Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, received the award for his pioneering work in the chemical synthesis of small molecules and nanomaterials for biomedical applications. His work has contributed to the understanding of the role of trace elements, selenium and iodine, in thyroid hormone activation and metabolism, and this research has led to major medical advances.

The Infosys Prize 2019 in the Social Sciences category went to Dr Anand Pandian, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, USA, for his work on ethics, selfhood and the creative process. Prof. Pandian's research encompasses several themes such as cinema, public culture, ecology, nature and the theory and methods of anthropology.  His writing pushes the boundaries of how anthropologists render into words the worlds they encounter. 

(L–R): Salil Parekh – Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Infosys Limited; S. Gopalakrishnan (Kris) – Co-founder, Infosys Limited, Co-founder, Axilor Ventures, Trustee - Infosys Science Foundation; Nandan Nilekani - Co-founder and Non-Executive Chairman of the Board, Infosys Limited, Trustee – Infosys Science Foundation; S.D. Shibulal - Co-founder, Infosys Limited, Co-founder, Axilor Ventures Private Limited, President – Board of Trustees, Infosys Science Foundation; Narayana Murthy – Founder, Infosys Limited, Trustee – Infosys Science Foundation; K. Dinesh – Co-founder, Infosys Limited, Trustee – Infosys Science Foundation; Srinath Batni – Former Director, Infosys Limited, Co-founder Axilor Ventures, Trustee – Infosys Science Foundation. Photo: Infosys Science Foundation.

Addressing the gathering, Mr. S. D. Shibulal, Co-Founder, Infosys Limited and the President of the Infosys Science Foundation, said, “The Infosys Prize continues to recognize exemplary work in scientific research and enquiry. Many Infosys Prize laureates have gone on to contribute significantly in key areas like healthcare, genetics, climate science, astronomy and poverty alleviation, amongst other things. Their work has immediate implications for the human race and the planet. We hope it catalyzes social development.” 

Mr. N. R. Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys and trustee of the Infosys Science Foundation, called on the need for helping youngsters pursue fundamental research enthusiastically. “They should be encouraged and equipped to become contributors to solving huge problems that confront us every day. I want India to be a place where discovery and invention happen every month,” he said.

There was also a brief interaction with the media and students, where some of the trustees fielded some of the questions related to the prize. Ms. Nandita Jayaraj, an independent free-lance science journalist while congratulating the winners noted that there was better representation this time. She further mentioned that she would like to see the Chair of the Jury also be well represented, to which, Mr. Kris Gopalakrishnan responded saying 30% of the jury committee members were women. 

The winners will be awarded on 7th January 2020 at a separate function at Infosys, Bengaluru. The award includes a pure gold medal, a citation and a prize purse of USD 100,000 (or its equivalent in Rupees). 

(With inputs based on a press release from the Infosys Science Foundation).