Indian American Narinder Singh Kapany posthumously conferred Padma Vibhushan

Narinder Singh Kapany
Narinder Singh Kapany; photo credit: UC Santa Cruz

Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar receives Padma Shri.

By Tannistha Ganguly

Indian President Ram Nath Kovind posthumously conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award, on fiber optics pioneer Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany. Two other Indian Americans, economist and educator Srikant Madhav Datar and soil scientist Rattan Lal, were conferred Padma Shri, India’s third-highest civilian honor.

The awards were presented at a special function at the Rashtrapathi Bhawan in New Delhi on November 9.

Kapany, who passed away last December at the age of 94, is known as the father of fiber optics. A scientist, academician, entrepreneur, passionate collector of Sikh art and philanthropist, he received the award in the science and engineering category.

After graduating from Agra University in India, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of London in 1955. Kapany was the first person to effectively transmit high-quality pictures across a bundle of optical fibers as a doctoral student working alongside Harold Hopkins at Imperial College in 1953.

READ: Indian American Srikant Datar named new dean of Harvard Business School (October 12, 2020)

From 1977 to 1983, Kapany was a Regents Professor at UC Santa Cruz. He was awarded the Fiat Lux Award by the UC Santa Cruz Foundation in 2008 for his outstanding achievement, dedication, and service in support of the university’s programs and goals. He died on December 3, 2020 at the age of 94.

“The recognition of Kapany by the government of India was long overdue,” said Javad K. Hassan, an Indian American entrepreneur and a friend of the late scientist for nearly three decades.

Hassan said he first met Kapany more than three decades ago, while he was serving as the president of the Global Interconnection System at the Harrisburg, PA, -based AMP (now Tyco Connectivity). Hassan’s company acquired Captron, then owned by Kapany, and later the scientist and entrepreneur became an AMP Fellow.

“Kapany’s contributions to the field of fiber optics are remarkable,” said Hassan.

Datar, the dean of Harvard Business School, received Padma Shri in the literature and education category. He graduated with honors from the University of Bombay in 1973. After earning a postgraduate diploma in business management from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, he went on to get a master’s degree in statistics (1983) from Stanford University. He earned another master’s in economics from the university in 1984, and a PhD in business the following year.

Datar served as an assistant professor and then an associate professor at the Carnegie Mellon Graduate School of Industrial Administration from 1984 to 1989. He was a member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business faculty from 1989 to 1996, rising to become the Littlefield Professor of Accounting and Management and receiving the school’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

Datar has held a number of critical positions at Harvard Business School since joining the faculty in 1996, including senior associate dean for faculty recruitment, faculty development, executive education, research, and now as a dean.

He is the second Indian American to serve as dean of the 113-year-old Harvard Business School.

Rattan Lal, is an Indian American soil scientist who has worked on four continents to conserve soils. He is also the recipient of the World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.

Lal is a distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and the founding Director of The Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (OSU). Dr. Lal has pioneered revolutionary soil-saving techniques that have benefited the livelihoods of over 500 million smallholder farmers and improved food and nutritional security throughout the course of his career, across four continents.

His method of restoring soil health as a way of sequestering carbon was accepted by three different United Nations Climate Change Conferences. He was declared co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2007 and was among those honored with a Nobel Peace Prize Certificate for his contributions to the IPCC reports.

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