Nobel Laureates with an Indian Connection

India’s association with the Nobel Prize goes across centuries and latitudes. From poets to writers, economists and chemists, all have made their fair share of contribution in bringing honor to the country. Every year, thousands of members belonging to academies, university professors, previous Nobel Laureates and members of parliamentary assemblies as well as various others are asked to submit a list of candidates for the Nobel Prizes for the upcoming year. These nominators are chosen in such a way that as many countries and universities as possible are represented. After receiving all the nominations, the Nobel Committees of the four prize awarding institutions are responsible for the selection of candidates. It should be noted that the nomination process starts in the month of September each year and no person can nominate himself or herself for a Nobel Prize. Also, interestingly the names of the nominees cannot be revealed until 50 years later.

Rabindranath Tagore was the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize for the country in 1913 for his work in Literature. Ever since then nine other laureates with an Indian connection have been conferred the prestigious award in various other categories, with Abhijit Banerjee being the latest. This article attempts at incorporating all those intellectuals who have brought honor and pride to our country over the years.

Rabindranath Tagore

Born in 1861 in Calcutta, Tagore was the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize for his contribution in Literature. Tagore originally wrote in Bengali and was well known for his fiction works in the form of poetry, songs, stories, drama, philosophy as well as his contributions in various other fields. Tagore had an early success as a writer in Bengal and he became so popular, that his work had also reached out to a wider audience in the West. In fact, the Swedish academy, on its website, says that “Tagore’s writing is deeply rooted in both Indian and Western learning traditions”.

Tagore won the Nobel Prize for his work in his ‘Gitanjali’. The Gitanjali is basically a collection of his poems with the major theme being devotion to God. The poems focus on Indian philosophical aspects and themes of devotion highlighting the all pervasive presence of God. Gitanjali brings to its readers the reality of direct contact with the Infinite. With Gitanjali, Tagore became a voice of India’s spiritual heritage for the world, and for India he become a great legend.

Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman

Chandrasekhara Raman was India’s first physicist to win a Nobel Physics Prize in 1930, for his ground breaking work on the study of the scattering of light. The Tiruchirappalli-born scientist’s discovery has helped other researchers to analyse different types of material using his scattering of light phenomenon.

In 1928, Venkata Raman found out that light spreads in different directions when it meets particles that are smaller than its wavelength. He further established that a small portion of the scattered light acquires other wavelengths than that of the original light because some of the incoming photons’ energy can be transferred to a molecule, giving it a higher level of energy. This phenomenon is now called the Raman scattering which is a result of the Raman effect.

Har Gobind Khorana

Indo-American scientist, Har Gobind Khorana won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1968. He shared his award with two other eminent scientists Robert W Holley and Marshall W Nirenberg.

In the 1950s, it was established that genetic information is transferred from DNA to RNA, and to protein. One sequence of three nucleotide in DNA corresponds to a certain amino acid within a protein. In order to crack the genetic code, Marshall Nirenberg discovered the first piece of the puzzle. Adding on to the research Khorana built different RNA chains with the help of enzymes, which further helped him to produce proteins using these enzymes. The amino acid sequences of these proteins then solved the rest of the puzzle.

Mother Teresa

Born of Macedonian origin Mother Teresa was the first woman with close Indian ties to get the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 1979.
Mother Teresa’s contribution to society and the poor is unparalleled. After she joined the Loreto Congregation, she was sent to Calcutta to be a teacher. She later left the Loreto society as she wanted to devote her life to the poorest of the poor. Hence, along with few of her helpers, she found the Missionaries of Charity, building home for orphans, nursing homes for lepers and hospices for the lethally ill. Her organization has provided aid not only to Calcutta and other regions in the country but also to other parts of the globe.
She is still considered to be one of the greatest humanitarians and philanthropists of the 20th century.

Subramanyan Chandrasekhar

Subramanyan Chandrasekhar won the Nobel Prize in Physics in the year 1983, for his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars. This was the second time that a scientist of Indian origin won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He shared the award with another physicist, William Alfred Fowler.

His studies comprise the common knowledge that stars are formed out of clouds of gas and dust in the universe. When gravity pulls these clouds, energy is released in the form of heat and with the rising temperature, the atomic nuclei inside the stars start reacting. Chandrasekhar started working on his theories of the process stars subsequently undergo, in the 1930s. In his research, he explained how a star turns into a white dwarf when the hydrogen fuel of stars of a certain size begins to run out. His theory suggested that the star further collapses into a compact star known as a white dwarf.

Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his contribution to welfare economics with his research on the capability approach. A researcher of Bengali origin, he has various publications to his name mostly addressing social welfare and human development. He has received 90 honorary degrees from various universities across the world.
Coming to Sen’s capability approach, it can be understood as a theoretical framework, by it’s choice of focus upon the moral significance of individuals’ capability of achieving the kind of lives they have reason to value. This theory has been extensively employed in the context of human development as a broader and deeper alternative to narrowly economic metrics such as GDP. Here, a person’s capability to live a good life is defined in terms of the set of valuable ‘being and doing’, like having good relationships or being healthy.

Sir Vidladhar Surajprasad Naipaul

Vidladhar was a Trinidadian and Tobagonian British writer specialising in works of fiction and non-fiction in English. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. Although born and raised in British Trinidad and Tobago, he has strong Indian ties. In the 19th century, Naipul’s grandparents had emigrated from India to work in Trinidad’s plantations as indentured servants.
Naipaul also was awarded various awards and like the Booker Prize in 1971 and the Trinity Cross in 1990. He was also made a knight bachelor at the 1990 New Year Honours.

Venkataraman Ramakrishnan

Venkataraman Ramakrishnan received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 for his studies of the structure and function of ribosome. He shared the award with two other researchers Thomas A Steitz and Ada E Yonath. Tamil Nadu based Ramakrishnan was born in a family of academics where both his parents had a post-doctoral degree. Ramakrishnan’s study has been very crucial in the production of antibiotics where he used x-ray crystallography to determine the structure of ribosomes which is made up of hundreds of thousands of atoms.

Kailash Satyarthi

Kailash Satyarthi, along with Malala Yousafzai, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 , for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education. He was an engineer but had left engineering to teach children in a small town in Madhya Pradesh. Later in 1980, he left teaching and found the ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’, an organization whose objective was to free children from slavery. Satyarthi has always been active for the fight against child labour and children’s right to education in a wide range of other organizations.

He was a follower of Gandhi’s ideology of a peaceful world, and had a colossal contribution to make in working towards the ending of child labor and exploitation, and encouraging them to attend school or other educational institutions. He is also a member of UNESCO, where he works towards providing ‘Education for All’. After his Nobel win, he made it to the Fortune ‘World’s Greatest Leaders’ list in 2015.

Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee

Banerjee is the 10th Indian, and the sixth laureate with a Calcutta tie, to have won the Nobel Prize. Again, he won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his experimental approach in elevating global poverty and he shared the prize with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer. The three researchers had used the randomized approach where randomized evaluation to draw out lessons on what works and what doesn’t in programs, help firms to grow and create jobs. This approach has been used in social science in order to elevate poverty. Certain sectors have focused on applying this Nobel-winning methodology to identify the best ways to create jobs, ensure fair wages, good working conditions, and job security for workers.

Interestingly it must be noted that it is not only in recent times, but since time immemorial, that India has made immense contributions to science, literature and cultural advances. It was in India, where the decimal number system and the concept of zero was discovered, without which mathematics is incomplete. Ayurveda was the first medicine ever known to mankind. Similarly, India can also be considered to hold an equal footing in the sphere of science and technology with so many successful space missions conducted by the ISRO. Hence, we can conclude that most of the seeds of major inventions and creations had been sown in India.

Picture Courtesy- Quora


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