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18 November 2015

Bishal Upreti of Nepal wins CNR Rao Prize

The Himalayan region is among the most earthquake-prone areas in the world. CNR Rao Prize winner Bishal Upreti is studying past earthquakes to help shape future preparedness in his home country of Nepal. His work has implications in fields ranging from water resources to construction.

Vienna (Austria) – Nepali geologist Bishal Nath Upreti is the winner of the 2015 CNR Rao Prize for scientific research. He received the award "for his outstanding contributions to the investigation of the stratigraphy and tectonics of the Nepal Himalayas and our understanding of the geology of Nepal". His research has practical implications in many fields: for earthquake landslide hazard assessment, mineral exploration, water resource development, and the constructions of dams, tunnels, roads and bridges.

The announcement was made Wednesday 18 November during the opening ceremony of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) 26th General Meeting, held this year in Vienna, Austria from 18-21 November.

The CNR Rao prize acknowledges dedication and high-impact research by scientists from Least Developing Countries (LDCs). The prize was established by Indian chemist CNR Rao, a Founding Fellow and former president of TWAS.

"I am highly delighted to receive the prestigious CNR Rao Prize from TWAS," Upreti said. "Though I am the recipient of a number of national awards as well as honors from my professional society in Nepal, this is my first international award, and perhaps the first international award received by any Nepali geoscientist. I consider this prize to be an honour not only to me but an honour to the entire geoscientific community of Nepal. This prize certainly motivate me to contribute more in science in the developing countries."

Upreti, elected to TWAS in 2006, is a professor in the department of geology at the University of Zambia in Lusaka and a TWAS Research Professor (2012-2017) in the same university. He is also the president of the Disaster Preparedness Network-Nepal (DPNet Nepal), a network that includes more than 100 NGOs, UN agencies, Nepalese government ministries and other agencies involved in the field of disaster risk reduction.

His field of expertise lies in structural geology and tectonics, a discipline that studies the processes controlling structure and properties of the Earth's crust. For over 16 years he has worked as the head of the central department of geology at Kirtipur Campus and the Department of Geology, Tribhuvan University, Nepal and was the Dean of Science. But he has more than 40 years of professional research experience in the field of geology, and Nepalese geology in particular.

The work he has carried out with his collaborators is unveiling the tectonics of the Nepal Himalaya, starting 500 million years ago in Lower Paleozoic time. At that time, Upreti's data suggest, a mountain belt existed long before the Himalaya was born. By investigating the Main Central Thrust – one of the three master faults of the Himalaya – Upreti wrote a chapter of the history of Himalayan uplift after the collision between India and Asia that occurred 55-60 million years ago.

See more news from the 26th TWAS General Meeting in Vienna, Austria

However, his scientific contributions are not limited to history. Indeed they have major impact on present days. Upreti has mapped active faults to build the chronology of the historic and prehistoric earthquakes in the Nepal Himalaya.

"These data are now being used in evaluating the seismic hazard in the Nepal Himalayan region," he observes. He was in Kathmandu when a devastating earthquake occurred on 25 April 2015. In the first four to five days after the quake, he was actively involved as a geoscientist in providing technical information on the disaster and on safe measures to be taken.

"In the days immediately after the April earthquake, we did field mappings in the Kathmandu Valley," he recalls. His GPS data were analyzed within three days, with the help of international collaborators, and the results were made public. They are already published in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

By shaping his career through international collaborations, Upreti – who is also a member of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology – has built an international network of contacts and collaborations. He has had research appointments in Japan, France, India, Germany, Ethiopia and China. His current appointment as a TWAS Research Professor at University Zambia is a matter of pride.

"It is a great experience to learn the culture and people of Zambia and to know their education system," Upreti said.

The TWAS Research Professors programme was launched in 2005, to enable accomplished professors to visit a research institution in an LDC, three times in five years. Upreti's first visit to Zambia was in 2012, and then he paid other visits in 2014 and 2015. "I plan to go there in 2016 as well," he explained, "as I have established very good personal bonds with faculties in the institution."

While carrying out scientific research, Upreti is also involved in outreach activities. Through public lectures, lectures in schools, radio and television programmes, he acted to help shape preparedness for future earthquakes. He also participated and contributed in a large number of national and international programmes on public awareness campaigns.

He also is co-editor of several books on geology of the Nepal Himalaya and landslide hazard management, and has authored more than 75 research papers in national and  international journals.

Cristina Serra

 

About the CNR Rao Prize

The CNR Rao Prize was established in 2006 by TWAS founding Fellow and former TWAS president CNR Rao, an eminent Indian chemist who has served as the Chairman, Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India (2004 - 2014). The prize aims at acknowledging distinguished scientists from the world's scientifically lagging and Least Developed Countries who have made significant contributions to global science.

It carries a cash award of USD5,000 generously provided by professor Rao. Each TWAS Regional Office presents one candidate from eligible countries of that region. TWAS officers review the nominations and propose a winner for approval by professor Rao.

Previous winners are: Muntaser Eltayeb Ibrahim, Sudan (2014); Firdausi Qadri, Bangladesh (2013); Wendimagegn Mammo Deneke, Ethiopia (2012); Akissa Bahri, Ghana/Tunisia (2009); Maurice Tchuente, Cameroon (2008); Berhanu M. Abegaz, Ethiopia; and Philippe Rasoanaivo, Madagascar (2006). 

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