Friday, January 19, 2018

T&T scientists lead the way

Awards for excellence...


PROUD AWARDEES: Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ingrid Seerattan, fifth from left, takes a photo with awardees, from left: Fenrick De Four Award for Engineering, Silver winner, Dr Chitram Lutchman, Emmanuel Ciprian Amoroso Award for Medical Services, Gold winner, Prof Anthony Kalloo, Julian Kenny Award for Natural Sciences, Silver winner, Dr Judith Gobin, Frank Rampersad Award for Junior Scientist, Silver winner, Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira, Fenrick De Four Award for Engineering, Gold winner, Prof Clement Imbert, Frank Rampersad Award for Junior Scientist, Silver winner, Xstiaaz Twinkle Chadee, Frank Rampersad Award for Junior Scientist, Gold winner, Dr Naila Murray, Rudranath Capildeo Award for Applied Science and Technology, Gold winner Prof Michael Fisher and Award for Engineering, Silver winner, Dr George Sammy. –Photos: Nigel Telesford

Mark Fraser

Although Trinidad and Tobago is more widely recognised for musical and cultural talents and innovations, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Trinbagonian scientists have also been contributing to ground-breaking developments in the field of science and technology.

While stationed at various campuses, hospitals and laboratories around the world, our home-bred doctors, professors and researchers have been leading the way and making stellar contributions in this arena and thankfully, their efforts have not gone unnoticed. 

Recently, the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) in collaboration with the Caribbean Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Science and Technology hosted the 2014 Awards for Excellence in Science and Technology and officially recognised and rewarded some of our best and brightest professionals in the field. 

Prof Anthony Kalloo is a Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and the Director of The Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Having developed special interests in natural orifice surgery, therapeutic endoscopy, biliary and pancreatic diseases and sphincter of oddi dysfunction, Prof Kalloo holds multiple patents for pioneering and innovative procedures, including the use of Botulinum toxin in the gastrointestinal tract, endoscopic cryotherapy and the winged biliary/pancreatic stent. He is the pioneer of Natural Orifice Translumenal Endoscopic Surgery (called NOTES for short), which is a technique he recently developed that will enable abdominal surgery without the use of incisions. In 2014, NOTES was cited as one of CNN’s top ten medical innovations. 

At the 2014 Awards for Excellence in Science and Technology, Prof Kalloo received the Emmanuel Ciprian Amoroso Award for Medical Sciences—Gold from the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ingrid Serrattan. Interviewed afterward, Kalloo explained that the award was a symbol of inspiration for those interested in pursuing careers in the field.

“This award is important to me personally,” he said, “because I was born here and it’s nice to be acknowledged for your successes, but I think also that this award allows young scientists or young physicians who are trying to aspire and achieve to be better to see that this can be done and that you can find success with the excellent foundation of education here. I really believe that we have an excellent foundation of education here that empowers persons to become whoever they want to be and achieve whatever they want to achieve.”

Prof Kalloo was among nine awardees on the night with medals distributed in five categories. The other awards and their recipients included: The Fenrick De Four Award for Engineering—Gold (Prof Clement Imbert)—Silver (Dr Chitram Lutchman and Dr George Sammy), The Rudranath Capildeo Award for Applied Science and Technology—Gold (Prof Michael Fisher), The Julian Kenny Award for Natural Sciences—Silver (Dr Judith Gobin) and The Frank Rampersad Award for Junior Scientist—Gold (Dr Naila Murray)—Silver (Xsitaaz Twinkle Chadee and Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira). 

In his opening remarks, NIHERST chairman Prof Prakash Persad implored the decision-makers to “place more importance on the field of science and technology in society” today, while also urging scientists to “speak up” and make themselves heard on matters of interest as well. CAS president Dr Trevor Alleyne brought greetings from the Caribbean Academy of Science and Professor in Computer Science at the Department of Computing and Information Technology, UWI, St Augustine, Prof Patrick Hosein delivered the keynote address entitled “Innovation through Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Research”.

“Let’s discuss how you icons out there can help Trinidad and Tobago achieve its goal of becoming a leader in the field of innovation,” he said. “First, let’s discuss collaborations: We are always keen on seeing collaborations among leaders in a field, so many of us would love to see a collaboration between top soca artistes like Bunji and Machel, or a batting partnership of Lara and Tendulkar—the same goes for science and technology…”

As one of the youngest awardees on the night, Dr Naila Murray echoed the sentiments of Prof Kalloo and expressed a positive outlook for the future of science and technology in T&T:

“It’s recognition that science and technology is appreciated and really being seen as the way forward for the country and the way forward for innovation,” she explained. “All of the developed countries that we want to emulate invest a significant amount of their GDP in science and technology and really place a lot of value in these fields, so I think it’s really nice to see that the stuff we’re doing is being recognised. It’s great that NIHERST is making the effort to do these things and some of the people they’ve recognised today—like Dr Fisher for example: he’s a really huge person that even I didn’t know was from Trinidad and people should know that. I am still a young researcher and I need mentors myself so it’s nice to come here and see people I can look up to and know that they came from the same places I came from and have arrived at places that I want to get to. 

“It’s encouraging to say the least…”

Dr Murray is an electrical engineer by training and a research scientist at Xerox Research Centre Europe, which is located in Grenoble, France. A national scholar, Dr Murray pursued her bachelor’s in engineering at Princeton University, USA and worked afterward as a doctoral candidate with the Colour in Context group at the Computer Vision Centre of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain. 

Andre Thompson and Simone Marie King served as the official MCs for the evening, with cocktails preceding the official ceremony and a sumptuous dinner following the award presentations. Musical interludes were provided by singer Nigel Floyd, pannist Johann Chuckaree and the pair of saxophonist Tony Woodruffe and guitarist Dean Williams.