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Science @70 to support research by senior stars

New Delhi, Sept 26: India’s scientific stars who remain active in research at age 70 may look forward to an extra five years of funding through a new Science@70 programme.

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) today announced a new research funding scheme open to past winners of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prizes, India’s highest scientific honours. The Science@70 scheme will offer scientists grants of Rs 20 lakh per year for a five-year period, exclusively for research, supporting students and associated travel, CSIR director general Samir Brahmachari said.

“This will not be personal money — at this age, they won’t need personal money — but funds only to pursue research,” Brahmachari said, announcing the scheme on the 70th anniversary of the birth of the CSIR.

He said the CSIR will draw up strict criteria to select scientists for the scheme. They will at age 70 need to show scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals and guide PhD students, he said.

The annual Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prizes themselves are given to scientists below the age of 45 years for outstanding achievements in biological sciences, chemical sciences, earth sciences, engineering, mathematics, physics and medicine.

Brahmachari said the CSIR expects only about four or five scientists will be eligible for the new grants scheme. The detailed rules of the scheme are yet to be drawn up, he said.

The eleven 2012 prize-winners announced today include two Calcutta scientists — Debashish Goswami at the Indian Statistical Institute for mathematics, and Krishnendu Sengupta at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science for physics.

Earlier, addressing the CSIR’s 70th anniversary celebration, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cautioned that India’s impact on global science has not matched the size of its scientific community.

“We have not been able to make an impact on a world scale commensurate with our large scientific manpower pool,” Singh said. He also said India needs to recognise that “excellence has not percolated across our research and academic institutions.”

Singh also pointed out that India has not succeeded in mobilising enough private investment in research and development that would help increase the nation’s investment in science and technology up to two per cent of the gross domestic product, a nation’s measure of economic value.

Senior scientists attending the celebratory function conceded these are “big” challenges that India has been unable to overcome although they have been identified for years.

“We’ve been good in business process innovation, but not in science-led innovation,” said Raghunath Mashelkar, former director general of the CSIR. “The focus has been on developing things for India — the first-in-India goal, instead of first-in-the-world goal,” Mashelkar said.

The CSIR is a government-funded network of about 40 laboratories involved in diverse domains — from life sciences to engineering to aerospace and electronics research.