Two Indian-born researchers, physical biologist Manu Prakash (pictured above) and theoretical computer scientist Subhash Khot, have won the prestigious MacArthur fellowship, the United States-based foundation announced on Wednesday. The MacArthur Fellows Program gives out grants to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits”. The fellows are given $625,000 (approximately Rs 4.18 crore) over a period of five years, according to The New York Times.

Prakash's work pertains to “applying his expertise in soft-matter physics to illuminate often easy to observe but hard to explain phenomena”. He graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur in 2002, and has worked on projects such as the Foldscope, an optical microscope that costs less than a dollar to produce. His other projects have included demonstrating how food colouring has demonstrated “highly complex behaviour…akin to active living matter”.

Subhash Khot, who received his BTech from IIT Bombay in 1999, has worked on the problem of P = NP: “That is, can every problem whose solution can be quickly verified by a computer also be quickly solved by a computer?” Khot’s Unique Games Conjecture on the problem has led to “new theorems in geometry, Fourier analysis, the mathematics of foams, and even the stability of different election systems”.

The Foundation says it uses three criteria to select the fellows: “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work”. Other fellows this year include a human rights lawyer of Sri Lankan origin, a geobiologist studying microbial communities and a jewellery maker and sculptor. The fellowship is granted to residents or citizens of the US, according to the Foundation.