Infosys Prize for poverty-intellect link

Economist Sendhil Mullainathan among winners of Infosys Prize 2018

By G.S. Mudur in New Delhi
  • Published 14.11.18, 4:29 AM
  • Updated 14.11.18, 1:07 PM
  • 2 mins read
Mullainathan's work has had substantial impact on development, public finance, corporate governance and policy design, relying on computation and data analysis techniques. Source: YouTube

An economist who found that poverty impairs intellect, a biophysicist probing molecular motors inside cells and an art historian who has shown how museums highlight the social impacts of art are among six winners of the Infosys Prize 2018.

The prizes, announced by the Infosys Science Foundation on Tuesday, also go to an engineer who has developed ultra-precise gas sensors, an atmospheric scientist who discovered an unexpected blanket of pollution high in the sky and a mathematician exploring oddities of the laws that govern the subatomic realm.

The winners are economist Sendhil Mullainathan at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business for social sciences; biophysicist Roop Mallik at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Sciences, Mumbai, for life sciences; art historian Kavita Singh at the Jawaharlal Nehru University for humanities; Navakanta Bhat at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, for engineering and computer science; atmospheric scientist S.K. Satheesh, also at the IISc, for physical sciences, and Nalini Anantharaman at the University of Strasbourg, France, for mathematical sciences.

“We hope the work of all our winners bears fruit,” K. Dinesh, president of the Infosys Science Foundation, said. The prize, which includes a purse of $100,000 (Rs 72.3 lakh) for each winner, aims to “inspire young minds to explore science as a career option and advance innovation in the country”.

The jury chairs were economists Kaushik Basu and Amartya Sen, computer scientist Pradeep Khosla, astronomer Shrinivas Kulkarni, mathematician Srinivasa Vardhan and neuroscientist Mriganka Sur.

Mullainathan, who was at Harvard University before moving to Chicago, has — through studies on sugarcane farmers in India and shoppers in New Jersey — shown that a “cognitive deficit” caused by poverty can translate into as many as 10 IQ points.

Mullainathan receives the prize for his “path-breaking work in behavioural economics”, the Infosys Science Foundation said. His work has had substantial impact on development, public finance, corporate governance and policy design, relying on computation and data analysis techniques.

Mallik has been cited for his “pioneering work on molecular motor proteins” that are crucial for the functioning of living cells. He has measured forces needed to transport particles inside cells and is working on research that connects molecular motors to mechanisms of chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

Singh receives the prize for her “extraordinary illuminating” studies of Mughal, Rajput and Deccan art and insightful writing on the role of museums in the increasingly fraught and conflicted social world in which visual culture exists today, the Foundation said.

It said research on soot aerosols by Satheesh has led to better understanding of how these particles influence climate change, rainfall and human health in the Indian subcontinent.

“Satheesh is among the first in the world to show the existence of a blanket of pollution at altitudes between 8km and 10km,” said Professor J. Srinivasan, his colleague at the IISc. “This was unexpected; air pollution is known best near the ground.”

Bhat, also at the IISc, receives the prize for designing novel sensors that detect gases at ultra-precise accuracies necessary for space, atomic energy and national security applications, the Foundation said.

The prize to Anantharaman cites her work on “quantum chaos”, research that deals with quantum physics, the laws that describe the universe at the subatomic level. Her work “impressively explores the deep relationship between classical and quantum systems”.

Mallik Telegraph file picture