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Pico Iyer, Rohinton Mistry among Guggenheim fellows

By George Joseph in New York
Last updated on: April 13, 2005 12:19 IST
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Two noted Indian-American writers and three scientists were awarded the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship.

Toronto-based novelist Rohinton Mistry has been selected in the fiction category, while Pico Iyer, based in California,ªwill be awarded the fellowship in the general nonfiction category for his work Reflections on the 14th Dalai Lama.

The scientists are Santosh Srinivas Vempala, associate professor of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his work in algorithmic convex geometry, and Madhu Sudan, Fujitsu professor of Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for his work in algebraic methods in error-correction.

Both were selected in the computer science category. One more person is awarded the fellowship in this category.

The other fellow, Meenakshi Wadhwa, is curator of Meteoritics, Field Museum, Chicago. She was selected for her analysis of solar wind returned by the Genesis spacecraft.

A total of 186 artists, scholars and scientists were selected from over 3,000 applicants for awards totalling $7,112,000. The new fellows include writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, choreographers, physical and biological scientists, social scientists and scholars in the humanities.

"We don't release what each fellow has received. I can tell you that the average grant this year was $38,236," Liz Gurl, a spokesperson of Guggenheim Foundation based in NY said.

The selection was based on recommendations from expert advisors for distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.

Since its inception in 1925, the Foundation has granted almost $240 million in fellowships to over 15,500 individuals. It was established by Senator Simon Guggenheim as a memorial to his son who died at 17. The fellowships are intended to further the development of artists and scholars and allow them to work free of any conditions.

Scores of Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer and other prize winners appear on the roll of fellows, which includes Ansel Adams, Aaron Copland, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Isamu Noguchi, Linus Pauling, Paul Samuelson, Martha Graham, Philip Roth, Derek Walcott, James Watson and Eudora Welty.

Iyer is well-known as a travel writer. He was born in England, raised in California, and educated at Eton, Oxford and Harvard. His books include Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, Tropical Classical and Abandon, among others.

Born in Mumbai in 1952, Mistry immigrated to Canada in 1975 and was employed in a Toronto bank. He began writing stories in 1983. His novels include the much acclaimed Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance.

Prof. Sudan graduated in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi in 1987 and has a PhD in Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley. He joined the MIT in 1997 and was promoted as full professor in 2003. The Fujitsu Chair is provided for through a contribution from the Fujitsu Corporation.

He won the IEEE Information Theory Paper Prize in 2000, the Godel Prize from ACM in 2001 and most recently the Nevanlinna Prize from the International Congress of Mathematicians in 2002.

Prof Vempala is mainly interested in Geometry, Randomness and Combinatorics, especially in two contexts: Finding mathematical structure that makes fast (polynomial-time) algorithms possible and investigating graphs and other discrete structures.

Wadhwa earned her masters degree from the Punjab University and received her PhD from Washington University. She joined the Field Museum in 1995.

"I study a variety of meteorite groups. The goal of my research is to decipher the processes involved in the meteorites' formation using trace element distributions in their minerals and also to determine when they were formed," she says about her work.

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