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Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, India’s new science adviser, in 2015

British High Commission, New Delhi/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

India taps biologist as new science adviser

India has a new science adviser. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Monday tapped Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, a molecular biologist and head of India’s Department of Biotechnology, to fill the post. He replaces physicist Rajagopala Chidambaram, a longtime adviser to India’s governments and a key figure in the development of India’s nuclear weapons program.

“It is a great responsibility. … We have our task cut out,” VijayRaghavan tweeted after the appointment was announced. “Connect science to society and society to science. [Science and technology] can be the fulcrum for change.”

The position of principal scientific adviser (PSA) has taken on greater prominence under Modi, who has disbanded other science advisory bodies and has tended to rely on the science adviser and science and environment minister for technical advice.

Housed in New Delhi, the PSA’s office has a small budget but has played a key role in catalyzing science initiatives, including major government investments in nanoelectronics research and the construction of a high-speed fiber optics network for the nation’s research universities.

Chidambaram, 81, recently told ScienceInsider that he was planning to resign from his position because “India needed a younger science adviser.”

VijayRaghavan, who is 64, earned his doctorate at India’s prestigious Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai in 1983, and later worked as a researcher at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He returned to India and ultimately became head of the National Center of Biological Sciences in Bengaluru, a prominent research center. In 2013, he was appointed to lead India’s biotechnology department, where he oversaw the deployment of the first vaccine developed by Indian researchers, which targeted rotavirus. His tenure also included a controversial—and ultimately unsuccessful—effort to introduce genetically modified mustard into Indian agriculture.

Anil Gupta, founder of India’s National Innovation Foundation in Ahmedabad, a government-sponsored funding body, says VijayRaghavan has “great hopes for science,” and is known for his ability to connect with young researchers. 

Earlier this week, VijayRaghavan hinted at his priorities in a series of tweets. The list included improving access to scientific training and addressing climate change and other environmental challenges. “Our foundations will be built on fundamental research, a basic human quest, which prepares us for the unknown,” VijayRaghavan told ScienceInsider. “Simultaneously, we will apply and develop technologies for speedy national transformation.”

His term as science adviser lasts for 3 years.