Kalinga Prize 2009
Two astrophysicists win 2009 Kalinga Prize for Popularization of Science
In this, the International Year of Astronomy, it is fitting that UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science should have been won by two astrophysicists: Professor Yash Pal from India and Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan from Viet Nam. The prize will be awarded by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura at the World Science Forum in Budapest (Hungary) on 5 November.
The UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science, the oldest UNESCO Prize in Science, is awarded on for the first time in 1952. It is made possible by a generous donation from the Kalinga Foundation Trust in India, the Orissa State Government of India and the Indian Government. This year, the Prize is awarded to Professor Yash Pal of India and Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan of Viet Nam.
- Professor Yash Pal (India) has made significant contributions to science over the decades in the fields of cosmic rays, high energy physics, astrophysics, science education, space technology, communication and development, and education.
He has also written and spoken extensively on issues related to science and society, particularly on the need for science to form an integral part of human existence, not only in terms of providing people with tools and techniques but also as a means of influencing human values, ethics and consciousness.
In the field of science popularization, Professor Yash Pal was responsible for conceptualizing the Science is Everywhere series of television programmes for rural children during the Satellite Instructional Television Experience experiment. He chaired the committee that produced the report Learning Without Burden and was Chief Advisor for the TV serials, Bharat Ki Chaap, Tur- rum-tu, and Race to Save the Planet. He was also the anchor for the live telecast of Total Solar Eclipse programmes in 1995 and 1999.
In his country, he is the most visible face of a scientist because of his response slot to viewers' questions in the science magazine Turning Point (over 150 episodes) in Doordarshan. He has also been responsible for designing, setting up and developing many Institutions, including the Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad, the Inter- University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune and the Centre for Educational Communication. The latter is famous for its Countrywide Classrooms programme and for initiating a Video Classroom Lectures Programme in Ahmedabad.
Professor Yash Pal interacts with various social, scientific and educational institutions, including schools, colleges, universities and Indian Institutes of Technology. Some have termed him a Gandhian Technologist. He often suggests modern ways of achieving inclusive societies that would moderate then eliminate the rising tide of ethnic tensions and terrorism. He tirelessly stresses the point that India has to define modernity and development in its own terms.
Since 2005, he has been involved in formal school education as Chairman of the Steering Committee for the National Curriculum Framework. This scheme is run via the National Council of Educational Research and Training with a large number of academics. It may yet bring about a significant change in the way India’s children are educated.
- Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan (Vietnam) is an astrophysicist internationally recognized for his research in extragalactic astronomy (concerning objects beyond the Milky Way). He is the author of more than 230 articles on the formation and evolution of galaxies, in particular of dwarf galaxies, and on the synthesis of light elements in the Big-bang. His articles are widely cited.
For his astronomical research, Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan makes use of the largest telescopes on Earth (Kitt Peak, Hawaii, Chile...) and in space (Hubble, Spitzer...). In late 2004, thanks to observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope, he discovered the youngest known galaxy in the universe (I Zwicky 18), a discovery that was amply discussed in the international press.
In addition to his research, Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan teaches a course at the University of Virginia which is known as "Astronomy for Poets". Students with a non-scientific background take this course to discover the wonders of the Universe related in non-technical language.
Prof. Thuan has published many books for non-scientific readers. Among his most famous are: The Secret Melody, a panorama of modern cosmology and its philosophical implications; An Astrophysicist, an Autobiography; Birth of the Universe - The Big Bang and After, an illustrated history of the Big Bang; Chaos and Harmony, a synthesis of the perspectives of scientific revolutions in the 20th century and of their philosophical implications; The Quantum and the Lotus, a dialogue with the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard on convergences and divergences of science and of Buddhism in their descriptions of reality; Origins, a coffee-table book illustrated with splendid photographs of the cosmos, which tells the 14 billion-year history of the Universe from the Big Bang to the emergence of the life and consciousness; and The Ways of Light, explaining the Universe through the signals it sends us in the form of light. This latter book has been awarded the 2007 Grand Prix Moron by the Académie francaise.
All of his books were originally written in French and have since been translated into at least 20 languages, including English. Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan is regularly an invited guest on television and radio talk shows in the USA, France and elsewhere.