Every year, the Indian government confer three prestigious Padma awards, namely, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri as the highest civilian awards of the country to person who have exceptional, distinguished contribution/service of higher order in various disciplines/fields of activities, viz.- art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, civil service, etc.
The awards are announced on the occasion of Republic Day every year. These awards are conferred by the President of India at ceremonial functions which are held at Rashtrapati Bhawan usually around March/ April every year.
This year the President has approved conferment of 119 Padma Awards including 1 duo case (in a duo case, the Award is counted as one).
The list comprises 7 Padma Vibhushan, 10 Padma Bhushan and 102 Padma Shri Awards. Among these, 29 of the awardees are women and the list also includes 10 persons from the category of Foreigners/NRI/PIO/OCI, 16 Posthumous awardees and 1 transgender awardee.
Recognition and conferment of the Padma Award in any field/service by any individual is always a unique achievement but for scientific and engineering people it always remains a curiosity to learn about individual and his specific contributions chosen for these awards.
This year, in the category of science and technology, two Padma awards are conferred as:
Padma Vibhushan to Dr Narinder Singh Kapany (Posthumous) – United States of America, and
Padma Shri to Shri Rattan Lal-United States of America.
Dr Narinder Singh Kapany who passed away on 04.12.2020 in the US is posthumously awarded the prestigious Padma Vibhushan, for his trailblazing work in the field of fiber optics.
In 1954, the Indian American physicist through his path-breaking research demonstrated for the first time the transmission of images over a bundle of optical fibres. The pioneer proved that light can travel in bent glass fibres and was the first to even coin the word – fibre optics.
This remarkable revelation half a century ago, laid the groundwork for today’s high-speed broadband internet that allows unfathomable volumes of text, images and video data to be transmitted around the globe in an instant.
Born in 1927 to a Sikh family in Moga, Punjab, Kapany studied in Dehradun. It was here that Kapany’s science teacher told him that light always travelled in straight lines. But the young boy was determined to learn how to bend light.
After completing his education at Agra University, he first started work in technology and it was in India at an Ordnance factory he learned how to design and manufacture optical instruments.
At 31, Kapany’s quest took him to graduate school in London, at the Imperial College he began working with Professor Harold Hopkins on his project attempting to transmit light through flexible glass fibers. They became a powerful team: Hopkins provided the theory and Kapany with grit put that theory in practice, and together they were among the first to create fiber optics.
In 2009 when Charles Kuen Kao bagged the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to Fiber optics, the scientific community were perplexed that Kapany was overlooked for the award. In fact, the Nobel Committee had even acknowledged Kapany’s work in a detailed publication.
The man himself, however, wasn’t too perturbed by this oversight and said that “Charles Kao did specific work for Bell Labs that related to the telecommunications/optical fiber field”.
The Wall of Inventions at the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology even today lists Kapany as the inventor of fibre optics and he was hailed by Fortune magazine in 1999 as one of the seven unsung heroes who have changed the face of the 20th century.
Dr. Kapany settled in the US and started a number of businesses as well as teaching at colleges including the University of Rochester, Illinois Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Santa Cruz and Berkeley.
Kapany, an ace physicist, gathered more than 100 patents, turned into a noted philanthropist, deeply committed to championing Sikh culture and language.
Shri Rattan Lal is a soil scientist and has revolutionised research in the field of soil science helping millions of farmers to help get better yield while also take better care of their land and has already won awards like world food award (2020).
Dr Rattan Lal was born in Karya, Punjab on September 5th, 1944 which is now a part of Pakistan after partition.
He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Science from Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, followed by a Master’s Degree in Science from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi.
After this, he headed to the US’s Ohio State University to complete his PhD.
After completing his academics, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sydney from 1968-1969.
After this, he moved to Nigeria, Africa for the role of a Soil Physicist at IITA, Ibadan, and worked there from 1970 to 1987.
In the year 1987, he arrived back at Ohio State University for the role of Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and Director of Carbon Management and Sequestration Centre.
Through his research, he has developed and even promoted the use of novel soil-saving technique which has benefitted 500 million small farmers, improving the food and nutritional security of more than two billion people and saving hundreds of millions of hectares of natural tropical ecosystems.
His innovation and research has reduced hunger by pioneering agricultural methods across the globe that has helped to not just restore degraded soil but also reduce global warming.
Dr Rattan Lal has received a long list of awards, including Borlaug Award in the year 2005, Von Liebig award, 2006, Glinka World Soil Prize in 2018, Japan Prize in 2019 and World Food Prize Award (2020).
He has also acted as the President of the International Union of Soil Science during the years 2017-2018.
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