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India’s Nobel Connection

29 Oct

by Nina Sudhakar

The 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded recently to Indian-American Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who shared it with Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath. Ramakrishnan won the prize for his work studying the structure and function of ribosomes, which work within cells to translate genetic information into proteins. In a recent interview, Ramakrishnan laughed that he would probably flunk an undergraduate chemistry exam if he had to take one today. That’s quite a humble statement from a man who’s not only been vaulted into the pantheon of Nobel laureates, but has also gained membership into the even more “elite” club of Indian laureates, which also includes:

  • Rabindranath Tagore: Asia’s first laureate, who won the 1913 Literature prize for making Indian thought accessible to Western readers through his poetry.
  • Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman: 1930 Physics winner who discovered the eponymous “Raman effect” and studied the molecular scattering of light.
  • Har Gobind Khorana: A current MIT professor who won the 1968 Medicine prize for his work interpreting the genetic code.
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar: 1983 Physics winner with a well-suited name (“chandra” meaning “moon” in Sanskrit) for his work on the structure and evolution of massive stars.
  • Amartya Sen: 1998 laureate and first Indian Economics prize winner, chosen for his study of welfare economics and social choice.

Several laureates share even more in common than their origin and a Nobel Prize. Both Physics winners were related—Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was C.V. Raman’s nephew. And Amartya Sen’s birthplace was the university town of Santiniketan, West Bengal, founded by fellow laureate Rabindranath Tagore. These links demonstrate that it’s definitely a small world when it comes to the universe of Indian laureates. But as this list continues to grow in the future, many other Indians may begin to discover that they, too, share some kind of Nobel connection.

 

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