Microsoft researcher Manik Varma among Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar award winners this year

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on September 27, 2019 Published on September 27, 2019

Rarely scientists working for private research labs in the reckoning for the coveted science prize

In an indication of growing importance of private sector in research and development in the country, a researcher working with a private research organisation was among 12 scientists who bagged this year’s Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar (SSB) Prize.

Manik Varma, who won the 2019 SSB Prize for engineering sciences, is a scientist with Microsoft Research India and specialises in machine learning and artificial intelligence with special focus on computational advertising and astronomy.

Significantly, Varma was probably second scientist from the private research field to receive the most prestigious award given to Indian scientists below the age of 45 years. Incidentally, the other scientist from private institution to receive last time was Venkata Narayana Padmanabhan, who also happens to be from Microsoft Research India, in Bengaluru. In 2016, Padmanabhan shared the SSB Prize for engineering science with Avinash Kumar Agrawal of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur.

This year, there is a scientist from not-for-profit organisation too among the winners. Mohammad Javed Ali of L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad has shared the prize with Dhiraj Kumar of International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, in New Delhi, the SSB Prize for medical sciences.

“SSB Prizes are given on the basis of nominations received. The advisory committee do not look at whether the scientist is from a public-funded research institution or from private sector. The quality of science done by them should be top class, apart from meeting other eligibility conditions,” said a senior official with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which manages the awards. The award is named after the founder Director of the CSIR, S S Bhatnagar.

“I can’t thank Microsoft enough for building a lab which gives us complete academic freedom, encourages us to take risks, puts resources behind the projects it believes in and allows us to quickly translate our research into technology that benefits millions of people in India and around the world. The award is also a recognition of the world class research done by my students and colleagues at IIT Delhi,” said Varma, who is also an adjunct professor of computer sciences at IIT Delhi.

SSB awards are given in seven disciplines – biological sciences, chemical sciences, earth sciences, mathematical sciences and physical sciences apart from engineering and medical sciences. The recipient receives a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh and the prize money is shared if there are more than one winner.

Among this year’s winners are Kayarat Saikrishnan of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, and Soumen Basak of National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi, who shared the prize for biological sciences, Raghavan C Sunoj of IIT Mombay and Tapas Kumar Maji of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru (Chemical sciences), Subimal Ghosh of IIT Bombay (Earth, atmospheric, ocean and planetary sciences), Dishant Mayurbhai Pancholi of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai and Neena Gupta of Indian Statistical Institute for mathematical sciences, and Aninda Sinha of Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru and Shankar Ghosh of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai for physical sciences.

Published on September 27, 2019
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