Graphic: Soham Sen/ThePrint
Graphic: Soham Sen/ThePrint
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Bengaluru: The names of 11 Indian women scientists have come into prominence after the Narendra Modi government decided to establish chairs in their name in institutes across the country.

Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani made the announcement last week to “not only honour & recognize Indian women scientists’ contribution to the field of Science but also inspire women & encourage greater participation of young girls in STEM.”

Only women researchers can take up these chairs, and receive research funding up to Rs 1 crore.

In view of the government move, ThePrint explores the scientists’ lives to understand who they were and the significance of their contributions to their fields in which their chairs are instituted.


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Cytogeneticist Archana Sharma (1932-2008)

Archana Sharma was a botanist and specialised in plant genetics. She did pioneering work in speciation in asexual plants, or understanding how these plants evolved to become distinct species. She also specialised in studying cells — their biology, toxicology, and genetics. Some of her other biggest contributions include research into the underlying mechanism behind the induction of cell division in an adult nucleus, genetic polymorphism in human population, and effect of arsenic in water. She was, perhaps, most known for her work in chromosomes and chromosome-related classification of flowering plants.

Botanist Janaki Ammal (1897-1984)

Janaki Ammal was one of India’s earliest botanists, who specialised in cytogenetics. She was also an expert in phytogeography, or the study of geographical spread of plant species and how they affect the earth. Her subjects of genetic experimentation were sugarcane and brinjal. She had an illustrious career abroad and in India. She was once forced to stay back in the UK due to the onset of World War II and co-wrote the cytology bible Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants while she set about crafting hybrid flowers.

Biochemist Darshan Ranganathan (1941-2001)

Darshan Ranganathan was particularly famous for her work in protein folding and her research in bioorganic chemistry. She also specialised in recreating naturally-occurring biological reactions in a laboratory setting. This enabled her to synthetically create several ingredients that are key to drugs and chemicals of pharmaceutical significance. She was an expert in designing proteins and other nanostructures of structural importance in chemistry.


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Chemist Asima Chatterjee (1917-2006)

Asima Chatterjee was an organic chemist whose biggest claim to fame is her development of anti-malaria, chemotherapy, and anti-epilepsy drugs. She performed extensive research on medicinal plants found on the Indian subcontinent. The aforementioned drug discoveries were a part of her work on the chemistry of concentrated natural products. She worked for nearly half-a-century on alkaloids, which are used in chemotherapy to prevent cells from multiplying.

Physician Kadambini Ganguly (1861-1923)

Kadambini Ganguly was among India’s first two female physicians — as well as South Asia’s and the British Empire’s — to have been trained in modern medicine. As the first woman in most places she stepped into, Ganguly fought off many prejudices and much discrimination. Apart from practicing independent medicine, she was also politically very active. She aided in the freedom struggle against the British Raj, organised Satyagraha meetings in 1906 after the partition of Bengal, and worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of female coal workers in eastern India.

Anthropologist Iravati Karve (1905-1970)

Iravati Karve was India’s first female anthropologist at a time when the field went hand-in-hand with sociology. Her fields of expertise encompassed Indology (the study of Indian history and culture as a subset of Asian culture), palaeontology, anthropometry (physiological dimensions of human bodies across cultures), and serology (the study of bodily fluids). She was a pioneer in women’s education. Karve’s work, considered pioneering for her time, has since been critiqued for its outmoded and heavy influence of governing tactics by the British Raj, her conflation of ancient-Sanskrit inspired ideas with modern anthropology, and her German-tenure inspired ideas of eugenics.


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Meteorologist Anna Mani (1918-2001)

Anna Mani performed research at the Indian Meteorological Department in Pune and authored numerous research papers on meteorological instrumentation. A physicist by training, she specialised in weather and meteorology, and went on to perform groundbreaking changes in Indian weather monitoring systems. She established a network of stations to measure solar radiation, standardised drawings of nearly 100 weather instruments, set up workshops to manufacture instruments that measured wind speed and solar energy, and developed an instrument to measure ozone.

Engineer Rajeshwari Chatterjee (1922-2010)

Rajeshwari Chatterjee was a mathematician and an electrical engineer, specialising in electromagnetic theory, microwave technology, and radio engineering. She was the first woman engineer from the state of Karnataka and pursued her PhD in the US just after World War II. She has contributed immensely to the field of antennas for special purposes used in aircraft and spacecraft. After her return to India, she served as faculty in the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. She then worked with Indian Association for Women’s Studies.

Mathematician Raman Parimala (1948)

Raman Parimala, the only living person on the list, is a mathematician well-known for her contributions to algebra. She demonstrated the first example of a ‘non trivial quadratic space over an affine plane’, in a move that surprised experts in the field. She specialises in using number theory, algebraic geometry, and topology. She is also well-recognised for her solution to the second Serre conjecture.


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Physicist Bibha Chowdhuri (1913-1991)

Bibha Chowdhuri is well-known for her work in particle physics and cosmic rays, and discovery of a new subatomic particle, the pi-meson, from experiments in Darjeeling. She worked under physicist Debendra Mohan Bose, who was often credited for her work. She later also worked with Nobel winner Patrick Blackett on cosmic rays. Upon moving to India, she worked in the field of nuclear physics. She was involved in the Kolar Gold Field experiments to detect neutrinos. Recently, through a public competition by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which names planetary bodies, the yellow-white dwarf star HD 86081 was renamed Bibha in her honour.

Pathologist Kamal Ranadive (1917-2001)

Kamal Ranadive was a biomedical researcher known for her research in the link between cancers and viruses. She worked on the development of tissue culture techniques at Johns Hopkins University the US. She returned to India to set up the Experimental Biology Laboratory and Tissue Culture Laboratory in Mumbai, and became the director of the Indian Cancer Research Centre. She also conducted research into the links between cancer and genetics, as well as cancer in infants. Her work led to developments in the causes of diseases like leukaemia, breast cancer, and oesophageal cancer.


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