Three Indian-origin achievers in White House honors list

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Washington: Three distinguished achievers of Indian-origin have made it to the celebrated White House honors list this year, highlighting India’s continued contribution to American science and technology streams. Two of them are alumni of the elite Indian Institute of Technology.

New York University’s Srinivasa SR Vardhan, Purdue University’s Rakesh Agarwal and North Carolina State Univeristy’s B Jayant Baliga are among the select dozen named by President Obama to receive the National Medal of Science, and for Technology and Innovation, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S government on scientists, engineers and inventors.

“Each of these extraordinary scientists, engineers, and inventors is guided by a passion for innovation, a fearlessness even as they explore the very frontiers of human knowledge, and a desire to make the world a better place,” Obama said in a statement following the release of the honors list. “Their ingenuity inspires us all to reach higher and try harder, no matter how difficult the challenges we face.” The recipients will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year.

Scientists and researchers of Indian-origin have occasionally featured before in the White House honors list, but this is the first time that three have been recognized in a single year in a list typically dominated by U.S-born and educated geeks.

Steve Jobs, Gordon Moore, David Packard and Dean Kamen are among the legends who have won the technology medal, while several science medal recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Srinivasa S.R. Varadhan, an alumnus of Presidency College, Chennai and Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkota, won the award for his work in probability theory, especially his work on large deviations from expected random behavior, which has revolutionized this field of study during the second half of the twentieth century and become a cornerstone of both pure and applied probability. The mathematical insights he developed have been applied in diverse fields, including quantum field theory, population dynamics, finance, econometrics, and traffic engineering, the White House said in its citation.

Rakesh Agarwal, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for “an extraordinary record of innovations in improving the energy efficiency and reducing the cost of gas liquefaction and separation. These innovations have had significant positive impacts on electronic device manufacturing, liquefied gas production, and the supply of industrial gases for diverse industries,” the citation said.

B.Jayant Baliga, an alumnus of IIT Chennai, won in the same category for development and commercialization of the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor and other power semiconductor devices that are extensively used in transportation, lighting, medicine, defense, and renewable energy generation systems.