Prof Gagandeep Kang to be feted with honorary degree at Punjabi University

Prof Gagandeep Kang to be feted with honorary degree at Punjabi University

Arun Grover

Punjabi University, Patiala, has taken a commendable step to schedule its annual convocation on December 9, after a gap of six years, where the chief guest is Prof Gagandeep Kaur Kang, the first woman from India to be elected as Fellow of The Royal Society (FRS), London.

The Royal Society, London, is one of the oldest scientific societies in the world, established in 1600, and has nearly 1,500 Fellows from the UK and Commonwealth countries drawn from all areas of science, engineering and medicine, including over 80 Nobel Prize winners.

A marine engineer and an innovative shipbuilder, Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia was the first Indian to be elected the FRS in 1841, followed by Srinivasan Ramanujan, the legendary mathematician, in 1919. Prior to Independence, only 10 scientists of the Indian lineage were elected the FRS, including two from Punjab — Dr Birbal Sahni and Dr Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar.

PU (Lahore) alumnus Dr Abdus Salam, a Nobel laureate in Physics (1979), was elected the FRS at a young age of 33 in 1959, and his collegemate Prof Har Gobind Khorana, a Nobel laureate in physiology/medicine (1968), was made a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 1978.

Two of the technology contemporaries of these Nobel laureates, who also graduated from Panjab University (Lahore) in 1945, namely Dr FC Kohli and Dr Satish Dhawan, progressed to become the father of the software industry and emeritus chairperson of Tata Consultancy Services and the first chairperson of the Space Commission in Independent India, respectively.

After Independence, 44 more scientists, who have had their college or university education in India, have been elected as FRS. These include six having a connection with Punjab, namely Prof BP Pal (1972), Prof Avtar Singh Paintal (1981), Prof Gurdev Singh Khush (1995), Prof Ajay Kumar Sood (2015), Prof Kamaljit Singh Bawa (2015) and the latest being Prof Gagandeep Kaur Kang (2019).

Prof Kang is a recipient of the prestigious Infosys Science Prize in Life Sciences in 2016 for her pioneering contributions to understanding the natural history of rotavirus and other infectious diseases that are important both globally and in India. In her presentation on “Vaccines and Public Health in India” at the mid-year meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bengaluru, in July 2017, Prof Kang had stated that “we need to be thinking about the future and what it holds for our capacity to develop vaccines, for our ability to go though regulatory processes and the making of decisions around vaccine use”.

Punjabi University is going to award her DSc (honoris causa) at the convocation. I witnessed at the six convocations (2013-18) of Panjab University that women outnumber men by 2:1 in the award of doctoral degrees and by 3:1 in the award of gold medals. For the young women and men of Punjab and neighbouring states, Prof Kang’s visit will be an occasion to cherish.

She was born in Shimla, had her schooling in Jalandhar, before moving on to qualify for a medical seat at Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore. She is back once again as Professor of microbiology at the Welcome Trust Research Laboratory of the CMC, Vellore, after completing her term as the Executive Director of Translational Health Science Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad, set up by the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India.

— The writer is a former Vice Chancellor of PU, Chandigarh

Tribune Shorts


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