One of the most famous pictures from India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) at ISRO in 2003, was this one. A picture of Indian women scientists celebrating their hard work, clad in beautiful saris, their hair adorned with flowers and looking as unlike stereotypical scientists as possible. But with all the challenges placed in front of women in the pursuit of science, these brave women have still succeeded in making the world sit up and notice their mettle.
Though the state of affairs might arguably be different in the modern world, a woman is still expected to fulfill what is generally believed to be her primary ‘responsibilities’ – that of getting married, having children and nurturing the home and family. However, even with constraints of long hours, insufficient research grants and looking after family, these women in the list below have made leaps and bounds in the field of science.
1. Anandibai Joshee
She was one of the first Indian women doctors to learn and practice western medicine at the age of 21.
Anandibai was one of the first Indian women doctors who learned and practiced western medicine. Her life was one of struggle; she was married off at the age of 9 to a widower 20 years older to her and lost her newborn due to lack of necessary medical care. She herself suffered from constant headaches and shortness of breath. Losing her child impelled her to become a doctor and she went abroad to study medicine in Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886. She returned to India to become physician-in-charge of the female ward at the local Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur.
2. Janaki Ammal
A researcher in cytogenetics and phytogeography, Janaki Ammal went on to occupy the reputed post of the Director-General of the Botanical Survey of India.
Janaki Ammal in the 1900s took up botany, an unusual choice for women then and later pursued scientific research in cytogenetics and phytogeography. She worked in the UK and returned to India to serve as Director-General of the Botanical Survey of India.
3. Asima Chatterjee
Asima Chatterjee is known for her research on vinca alkaloids and development of anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs.
Asima Chatterjee earned respect for her work as a chemist in organic chemistry and phytochemistry, which studies chemicals we get from plants. She is known for her research on vinca alkaloids and the development of anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs.
4. Sunetra Gupta
Novelist and professor of Theoretical Epidemiology, she earned the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin award for her research in infectious diseases.
Sunetra Gupta is a woman of many talents; she is a novelist as well as a professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford. Her field of interest is research in infectious diseases like flu and malaria, using mathematical models. She studied at Princeton and then received her doctorate from the University of London. Sunetra earned the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin award for her valuable scientific research. Apart from her scientific prowess, her literary talents have produced several novels and translated Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry.
5. Dr. Indira Hinduja
Dr. Indira Hinduja delivered India’s first test tube baby and introduced the gamete intra-fallopian transfer.
Dr. Indira Hinduja, a gynecologist, obstetrician and infertility specialist from Mumbai delivered India’s first test tube baby. She introduced the gamete intra-fallopian transfer which led to the birth of India’s first GIFT baby. Her contribution has been published in several national and international medical journals.
6. Dr. Aditi Pant
A successful oceanographer, she was the first Indian woman to visit Antarctica in 1983.
The first Indian woman to visit the frozen Antarctica in 1983, Dr. Aditi Pant is a reputed oceanographer. She contributed towards the third Indian venture to Antarctica and received the Antarctica award for the same. She has worked at the National Institute of Oceanography and the National Chemical Laboratory.
7. Dr. Suman Sahai
Founder of the Gene Campaign which works to better livelihoods in rural communities, she has received the Padma Shri and the Borlaug for her efforts.
The Gene Campaign in India works to better food, nutrition and livelihoods. The woman who built the organisation is Dr. Suman Sahai, the recipient of the Padma Shri, the Borlaug and the outstanding woman achiever awards. Her unyielding determination made the Government sit up and take notice of the effects of genetically-modified crops and the problems Indian farmers face.
8. Darshan Ranganathan
She was an organic chemist who made progress in protein folding, supramolecular assemblies, molecular design, chemical simulation of key biological processes to name a few.
Darshan Ranganathan was an outstanding organic chemist whose work in bio-organic chemistry was notable. She made headway in protein folding, supramolecular assemblies, molecular design, chemical simulation of key biological processes, synthesis of functional hybrid peptides and synthesis of nanotubes.
Though her husband was also a professor of chemistry at IIT Kanpur, rules forbid spouses to hold faculty positions together and she was neglected as a research associate. She joined IICT, Hyderabad as deputy director but died from breast cancer in 2001.
9. Charusita Chakravarty
She studied the basis of molecules and effects of change in molecular base on DNA proteins which won her the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize.
Charusita Chakravarty was a chemistry professor at IIT Delhi. Though she was born in the USA, she came back to India and continued her research on DNA proteins. Though funds were scarce, she persevered and studied the basis of molecules and effects of change in molecular base on DNA proteins. Her work earned her accolades like the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize. She was also an Associate Member of the Centre for Computational Material Science, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore.
10. Yamuna Krishnan
Yamuna Krishnan works in the field of bionanotechnology and makes experimental machines out of DNA. She synthesizes nuclear bases into filaments of DNA; the filamentous DNA are sent into cells which help provide more information on the condition inside such as acidity and other factors. The mechanism has the potential to mimic viruses and make drugs more efficient by efficiently reaching the drugs to the cells. She was awarded the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prize in 2013.
11. Shubha Tole
A recipient of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prize, Shubha Tole studies genetic mechanisms to understand genetic defects such as autism and epilepsy.
In her work on neurocircuitry in mammals, Shubha Tole seeks to study how genetic mechanisms control our brain to understand defects like autism and epilepsy. She discovered a master regulator gene which controls the development of the brain’s cortex hippocampus and amygdala. She is professor at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the recipient of the Infosys Prize in 2014 and the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prize in 2010.
12. Prerna Sharma
At just 29, the assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science was on the Forbes’ 30-under-30 India list which includes people who are doing commendable work in their professional fields. She studies soft condensed matter like colloids, emulsions and surfactants. She was part of a team which made great headway in two-dimensional physics.
13. Tessy Thomas
A recipient of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award, Tessy Thomas was the project director behind the launch of Agni-IV and Agni-V missiles.
A famous engineer in Defence Research and Development Organisation, Tessy Thomas is known as the ‘Missile lady’ due to her work leading up to the successful launch of Agni series of missiles. She is the first Indian woman scientist to have headed a missile project. She was the Project Director for the Agni-IV and Agni-V missile in Defence Research and Development Organisation. The missile was successfully launched on 19 April 2012. She is the recipient of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for her work in the field of missile technology in India.
14. Usha Barwale Zehr
One of the most talented researchers in Botany, she is the Joint Director of Research at Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited in Jalna. She produced India’s first genetically modified food, the Bt brinjal. Her work gained recognition in 2000 for her efforts in producing genetically modified food.
15. Paramjit Khurana
Paramjit Khurana has developed hybrid strains of mulberry, wheat and rice which withstand drought and high heat, to help farmers who depend on weather.
A researcher at the Department Of Plant Molecular Biology in Delhi University, she works on plant genomics. She develops ‘All Weather Seeds’ which will help farmers who depend on weather for their crops. Her hybrid strains of mulberry, wheat and rice are drought resistant, can withstand heat and have a higher UV radiation capacity. However, like many others she faces obstacles like insufficient funds for research.
Respect for these ladies who made a mark in the world.