Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize

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The awardees


Sep 28, 2019: The Times of India


A quarter of the ₹5 lakh Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize awardees this year are researchers from city institutes, reports Yogita Rao

Shankar Ghosh (44), TIFR

Prof Shankar Ghosh from the department of condensed matter physics and materials science at TIFR won the prize in physical sciences category. Ghosh is studying how friction and interbody contact can help in getting desired self-organised structures.

Ghosh, a soft matter physicist, hopes to push his understanding of friction and contact to a pathbreaking point. His works involves understanding complicated but interesting phenomena of everyday materials such as peeling of paint, formation of cloud and mechanical response of a sand pile,. “Right now, we are trying to use friction and contacts between neighbouring objects and trying to understand how they can lead to organised structures. Driven and non-linear manybody systems such as earthquakes or animals in collective locomotive patterns are capable of self-organising.,” said Ghosh.

Raghavan Sunoj (45), IIT-Bombay

Raghavan Sunoj from IIT-Bombay’s department of chemistry was awarded the recognition in chemical sciences category for his work in use of computational chemistry and artificial intelligence to study catalytic reactions mainly of relevance in the formation of pharmaceutical drugs. “More than 50% of the drugs in the market are chiral (handedness) in nature. Such drugs may have side effects. They go through stringent regulatory checks to eliminate all the negative effects. However, these effects can be controlled at molecular level during formation, which is the prime focus of our research,” said Sunoj. He cited the famous case of birth defects caused due to the use of controversial chiral drug thalidomide in the US. The incident triggered the need to study the chirality of compounds in the pharmaceutical industry.

Explaining the concept of ‘handedness’, he said that drug molecules have two specific chiral properties (handedness) – most often only one is desired. Production of these drug compounds, where 50% of it is unusable, not only incurs a loss of 50% costs to the pharma industries, but also its disposal can lead to environmental hazard.

“We step in here. I use computational chemistry to understand what controls the formation of a given ‘handedness’. We study the factors governing the formation of the preferred compounds using computer models,” said Sunoj, who is originally from Thiruvanananthapuram in Kerala.

The team can design new and efficient catalysts that can control the speed of chemical reactions and its handedness. The work can have applications in petrochemical, oil and gas, natural gas industries as well.

Subimal Ghosh (40), IIT-Bombay

Professor Subimal Ghosh from IIT-Bombay’s department of civil engineering won the award in the earth, atmosphere, oceans and planetary sciences category for his work on regional modelling of Indian monsoon, climate change projections and atmospheric-land-surface interactions.

Ghosh recently led a team of 30 scientists from eight institutes across the country to develop an automated real-time flood forecasting expert system. Such a system, that took into consideration weather forecasting system, hydraulic system, regional monsoon pattern into account, never existed in the country. While the framework was developed for Chennai, the National Centre for Coastal Research in Chennai will soon replicate the model in cities like Mumbai. The model is working on ground, but they are not making it fully operational and the output is shared only with disaster mitigation organisations and civic bodies, said Ghosh.

His work on statistical regional climate modelling started when he was pursuing his PhD at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. “I realised that regional cell information is very important as climatic patterns are differing in every region due to the spatial heterogeneity. For this, we had to develop regional climate projection algorithm. One of them is currently in use,” said Ghosh. His team also worked on the impact of local processes such as water cycle and land use on monsoon. A paper studied the change in irrigation practice having a potential to affect rainfall.

Ghosh has over 100 journal publications. Most of his studies are published in leading journals like Nature Climate Change, Nature Communications, and Water Resources Research.

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