Five Indian-Americans have been awarded with a prestigious US fellowship for their accomplishments and “exceptional promise”.
Pradeep Sharma, mechanical engineer at the University of Houston, Kavita Ramanan, professor of Applied Mathematics at Brown University, Dilip Da Cunha, architect, planner and teacher at Harvard University and Columbia University, Mukul Sharma, professor of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College, and Tahera Qutbuddin, professor of Arabic Literature and Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago, have been awarded the 2020 Guggenheim fellowships.
Approximately 175 such fellowships are awarded each year. The size of grant varies and is adjusted to the needs of fellows, considering their other resources and the purpose and scope of their plans. The average grant in the 2008 Canada and United States competition was approximately USD 43,200.
This year’s fellowships recognise 173 people, selected from an initial field of 3,000.
“The Guggenheim Fellowship came as a surprise. They are so competitive, I really didn’t expect it,” Mr Pradeep, this year’s only recipient in the engineering category, told PTI.
Mr Pradeep, M D Anderson Chair Professor of mechanical engineering and chairman of the department, uses mathematical and computational approaches to understand physical phenomena across a number of disciplines, from materials science to biology.
He said he will use the grant to further his work on a question that has puzzled him for years: why are some people, even those not trained as musicians, able to hear a piece of music and immediately reproduce the melody on a piano or other instrument, while others cannot.
“Part of it is the brain, but the question I want to ask is, is there something structurally different in her ears that she can hear music better? I am looking for a physics explanation for her ability,” he said.
Scientists have a good understanding of how the hearing mechanism works as sound waves enter the ear and move against the tiny hair cells inside. Those hair cells change the vibrations generated by the sound waves into electrical signals that are sent to the brain for decoding.
Mr Pradeep said he will investigate to see if certain physical characteristics of those hair cells – geometry, physical properties and even electrical activity around the cells – play a role in how people understand and interpret music.
According to his varsity, Mr Pradeep’s work has long been nationally recognised. He received the 2019 James R Rice Medal from the Society of Engineering Science for “creative contributions to understanding the science underpinning flexoelectricity and its applications to engineered and biological systems.”
Ms Tahera’s research focuses on intersections of the literary, the religious and the political in classical Arabic poetry and prose.
The Guggenheim fellowships honours artists, writers, scholars and scientific researchers, who are chosen based on their previous accomplishments and what foundation officials describe as their “exceptional promise”.
The Guggeinheim Foundation has granted more than USD 375 million in fellowships to over 18,000 individuals since the fellowships began in 1925. Recipients include Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, poets laureate, members of the national academies and winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, Turing Award and National Book Awards, among other honours.