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Home > India > Business > Business Headline > Report

Prize money offers knock at scientists' doors

Joe C Mathew in New Delhi | March 14, 2008 09:45 IST

Last month, Barun K Gorain, a non-resident Indian with Canadian company Barrick Gold Corporation came to Delhi with a $10-million proposal for suggesting a viable method to recover silver from Barrick's gold mines in Argentina.

Gorain caught up with many Indian scientists from universities, IITs and research institutions, including his alma mater Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, and invited them to be part of the global research.

Interestingly, this new phenomena is not just restricted to solving mining puzzles alone. US- based X-Prize Foundation, for example, has a $10-million prize money tag for innovations in genomics.

The foundation, whose research proposals are scrutinised by a high-profile board which includes India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) chief Samir K Brahmachari, said it was fostering innovation in a unique manner.

"Rather than awarding money to honour past achievements or to fund research, X-Prize Foundation creates competition which attracts and motivates creative solutions."

The foundation said it "attracts traditional entrepreneurs and maverick thinkers to compete outside the limitations of government and corporate bureaucracy."

Suddhasatwa Basu, a scientist with the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, said Gorain's offer was a  first-of-its kind announcement.

"We have heard about research grants given to projects, but not prize money for individual scientists for specific solutions,"  Basu, who is evaluating the Barrick proposal, said.

Gorain said it was difficult for the in-house R&D to solve all the research problems. "A multi-disciplinary approach is increasingly becoming essential and the prize money offer is meant to attract scientists. Barrick has a history of rewarding innovation, though the earlier one was a prize money contest to identify exploration targets," he said.

Dinesh Abrol, a CSIR scientist, said 'prize money' can only work in certain situations and cannot replace institutional research.

However, CSIR's ambitious plans for open source drug discovery programme talks about prizes or rewards for students and scientists for developing novel algorithms, finding drug targets, lead identification and other novel contributions.

Though the practice may be relatively new in India, it has already attracted enough attention in the developed countries. Innocentive, an online network that connects companies, academic institutions and non-profit organizations, is known for linking problem-solvers and solution�seekers by granting cash awards up to $1 million for creative solutions in business, entrepreneurship, chemistry, engineering and design, lifesciences, maths, computer science and physical sciences.

State of Indian Science

Sixth place globally in quality of scientific research institutions and universities
Around 1,20,000 researchers in science and technology
Around 4500 scientists with 37 CSIR institutions
No official figures available on brain drain
34.6 % of Indian students study science

Source: Government data, Rajya Sabha

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