University of Delhi professor Sathyabhama Das Biju, also popularly known as the “Frogman of India,” has been named among the fifty worldwide Radcliffe Fellows at Harvard University for 2023-2024. This fellowship will allow him to extend his research on the conservation of amphibian species in the Indian subcontinent at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in the upcoming academic year.
The Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University is a highly prestigious research institution that selects fifty fellows each academic year who “demonstrate an extraordinary level of accomplishment in their work” and grants them a year-long stipend to fulfil their respective projects amidst an interdisciplinary setup and the immense resources of Harvard. It is a highly competitive fellowship, with acceptance rates falling as low as three percent. Amidst this statistic, the University of Delhi professor, Sathyabhama Das Biju, who is currently the head of the Systematic Labs at the Department of Environmental Studies, has been named for the award for the academic year 2023-2024.
It can be noted that this year’s Radcliffe cohort is highly diverse and involves talented minds from around the globe, with one fellow from India in Biological Sciences, Professor Biju. With an interdisciplinary focus, the Fellowship Programme brings together scholars from a range of fields such as the humanities, arts, sciences, and even writers and journalists to pursue their work in a concentrated way amidst the intellectual and resource-rich, vibrant environment of the Harvard-Radcliffe community. Past fellows have included intellectuals and academicians like Jill Lepore, Samantha Power, Zadie Smith, Elizabeth Warren, and the Nobel laureate Michael Kremer.
After kick-starting his career as a plant systematist at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute in 1992, Professor Biju quickly shifted to amphibian research in 2000 and joined Franky Bossuyt at the Amphibian Evolution Lab in Brussels. From then on, his career faced an upward progression, with him discovering 100 new species and formally describing 96 new species, eight new genera, and two new families of amphibians in the span of a decade. His work came into international limelight with the creation of his conservation projects, namely, the Western Ghats Network of Protected Areas of Threatened Amphibians (WNPATA) and the Lost Amphibians of India (LAI), to save rapidly vanishing amphibians in the South Asian subcontinent. Moreover, his works were advanced in terms of collaborating molecular techniques with traditional methods, thus coinciding with international practise in amphibian research. His efforts have also resolved long-standing taxonomic issues in difficult amphibian groups like those of frogs.
At Harvard, Prof. Biju will be able to pursue his work on species conservation and identify further amphibian biodiversity hotspots in the Indian subcontinent while engaging in on-site collaboration with Harvard faculty, postdocs, and students and exploring the Museum of Comparative Zoology in the upcoming year.
Professor Biju is the sixtieth fellow representing Biological Sciences in the 23 years of this programme and only the second fellow in this discipline from India, a reflection of his vast contribution to the arena of amphibian research and exploration and his immense passion and potential to save India’s shrinking amphibian biodiversity in the future.
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