Pride of India


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t is a matter of pride that an India-born scientist, Dr Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry along with two others. The award is a matter of special pride for Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science also, of which he is a fellow. Dr Ramakrishnan is a US citizen and had his higher education in the US, though he had his schooling and graduation in India. His entire research career, including the prize-winning work on protein-producing ribosomes which are vital for life, was in the US and the UK. He joins other illustrious Indians like Dr Hargobind Khurana, Dr S Chandrasekhar and Amartya Sen whose Nobel Prize-winning works were also carried out abroad. While Indians can feel happy about the honours being won by those from the country, it should be a matter of concern that they had to live and work abroad to win those honours.

It is a cliché that India abounds in talent of international class, but it is also true that there is no congenial environment and institutional support to nurture and promote that talent. Dr Ramakrishnan has noted that there are brilliant scientists and good research institutes in India. But if his hope that they will earn recognition has to come true, more groundwork has to be done within the country. He has said that he owed his path-breaking work to his associates and students. Modern scientific work is much more collaborative than in the past. The joint award of Nobel Prizes to many scientists is proof of that. Individual talent of scientists has to be supported by adequate funding, infrastructure and networking among them. Indian talent will bloom in its soil and the country’s ambitions to become a knowledge superpower will be realised only if scientific and technological education is revamped, the working of its institutions debureaucratised and adequate funding and support is given to research.

Dr Ramakrishnan’s work, which unravelled the structure of ribosomes, is important in the development of new antibiotics. By creating models which show how antibiotics bind with ribosomes within the DNA, he and his co-winners have shed more light on the process of life. He was modest about his achievement and the glory reflects partly on India too.

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