Sir Shankar Balasubramanian and 3 other Indian-origin scientists win ‘Oscars of Science’

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Sir Shankar Balasubramanian Photo ch.cam.ac.uk – University of Cambridge
Professor Suchitra Sebastian Photo phy.cam.ac.uk — University of Cambridge

The Breakthrough Foundation announced the 2022 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics And Mathematics recently.

University of Cambridge’s Sir Shankar Balasubramanian and two others bagged the Life Sciences award for making possible the rapid sequencing of the Covid-19 virus which has saved thousands, if not millions of lives.

Altogether four scientists of Indian origin were among the winners of the prizes which have gained the reputation of being the ‘Oscars of Science’ and are the world’s largest prizes for science equalling $3 million for each category. This year a total of $15.75 Million in prizes went for discoveries leading to Covid-19 vaccines, treatment for neurological diseases, unprecedently precise quantum clocks among other major accomplishments. The live televised awards ceremony has been postponed to 2022, Breakthrough announced in a press release Sept. 9, 2021.

Shankar Balasubramanian and two other scientists, David Kleneman and Pascal Mayer, received the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

Though the vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna relied on decades of work by Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, “the almost immediate identification and characterization of the virus, rapid development of vaccines, and real-time monitoring of new genetic variants would have been impossible without the next generation sequencing technologies invented by Shankar Balasubramanian, David Klenerman and Pascal Mayer,” the press release said.

Before their inventions, re-sequencing a full human genome could take many months and cost millions of dollars; today, it can be done within a day at the cost of around $600.

Beyond the main prizes, six New Horizons Prizes, each of $100,000, were distributed between 13 early-career scientists and mathematicians who have already made a substantial impact on their fields. In addition, three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes were awarded to early-career women mathematicians.

Shankar Balasubramanian, University of Cambridge, David Klenerman, University of Cambridge, and Pascal Mayer, Alphanosos received the prize “For the development of a robust and affordable method to determine DNA sequences on a massive scale, which has transformed the practice of science and medicine.”

In the category ‘2022 New Horizons in Physics Prize’, the scientists of Indian origin include: Suchitra Sebastian, University of Cambridge, “For high precision electronic and magnetic measurements that have profoundly changed our understanding of high temperature superconductors and unconventional insulators.”

Professor of Astronomy Mansi Manoj Kasliwal Photo: pma.caltech.edu
Assistant Professor of Physics at Stanford University Vedika Khemani. Photo: sitp.stanford.edu

Mansi Manoj Kasliwal of the California Institute of Technology, along with 3 others “For leadership in laying foundations for electromagnetic observations of sources of gravitational waves, and leadership in extracting rich information from the first observed collision of two neutron stars.”

Vedika Khemani, Stanford University, and three others, “For pioneering theoretical work formulating novel phases of non-equilibrium quantum matter, including time crystals.”

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation and its founding sponsors include Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google; Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook; venture capitalists Yuri and Julia Milner; and Anne Wojcicki, CEO of the genomics company 23andMe.

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