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Three new honorary doctors in Science and Technology

2014-09-22

Three leading international researchers have been awarded honorary doctorates at Uppsala University’s Faculty of Science and Technology: Professor Dipankar Das Sarma, an expert on functional materials; Professor Linda Petzold, a leading IT researcher; and Professor Arieh Warshel, a computational biologist and joint winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013.

Professor Dipankar Das Sarma (b. 1955) heads the Solid State Chemistry Unit at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore. Researchers at this Institute, one of India’s top higher education and research institutions, have included several of India’s most eminent scientists of all time (such as the Nobel laureate C. V. Raman). In his work D. D. Sarma, a world-leading expert in functional materials, has used knowledge of the electronic structure of matter to create materials with distinctive properties and desired functions. His research has come to include new materials for applications in such areas as IT and energy conversion, where electrical and magnetic properties are in focus. Professor Sarma’s research has had a major impact on many Uppsala academics in physics, chemistry and technology, as the numerous joint research projects in which they collaborate with D. D. Sarma’s research group at IISc well illustrate.

Linda Petzold (b. 1954) is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research is on simulation and solution of differential equations using large-scale computer calculations. Differential equations can be solved with approximation methods, which are suited to computation. These equations describe, for example, electric networks, mechanical systems and chemical reactions. She has developed accurate, effective calculation methods and implemented them in free open-source software. Her programs form part of many large software packages for solving simulation problems in science and technology. Recently, she has become interested in dynamic models of how molecules in biological cells move and react with one another. Chance plays a decisive part in what occurs, and the computer models must include it. This calls for simulation methods that are highly efficient in order to be practically useful. Computer simulations complement biological experiments and enhance understanding of what happens. In one current project, Petzold is working with researchers in Uppsala to develop new methods and software to address these problems.

Arieh Warshel (b. 1940), a professor at the University of Southern California, is one of the world’s most distinguished computational biologists and a joint winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His research is interdisciplinary and crosses the borders between chemistry, biology and computer science. When he was still a doctoral student, he started developing the methods that underpin most present-day simulation programs for biomolecular processes — programs used by computational biologists around the world. Using these methods, he has succeeded in solving some of the greatest mysteries in biology. It was Warshel who, for example, found the key to why enzymes are such powerful catalysts and described the initial chemical processes involved in human vision. He has visited Uppsala University several times, both as an invited speaker and as the opponent in disputations (PhD students’ public defences of their theses). He also has close collegial relationships with many researchers in the Faculty of Science and Technology.

The Degree Conferment ceremony, when the new honorary doctorates will be awarded, is to take place in January 2015.