While working with NCSM, a science communicator organization, I thought to explore information about Indian women in Science and Technology on this International Women’s Day. Suddenly some of the names like Dr. Indira Hinduja, Kiran Majumdar Shaw and Kalpana Chawla flashed in my mind but I was willing to have some more names. I got information that a book named ‘Vidushi’: The Indian Women in Science & Technology was published by NCSM two years back. I went through the book and found it interesting and a good compilation about the Indian women in the field of Science & Technology. I also came to know about ‘Lilavati’s Daughter: The Women Scientists of India’ published by Indian Academy of Science but didn’t get a chance to go through it. I also searched on google, but found limited information on the topic. I am not sure if they are underrepresented in the field. I was also interested in the names in ancient times and pre-independence and I got some names. Here are they-
Leelavati: Leelavati was the daughter of great Mathematician Bhaskaracharya. It is said that Bharskaracharya wrote a book in her name to console her when her marriage got cancelled. She is also said to be a gifted mathematician and astrologer.
Kadambini (Basu) Ganguly: (18 July 1861 – 3 October 1923) She was not only the first female graduates of the British Empire but she was also the first female physicians of South Asia to be trained in western medicine. She studied medicine at the Calcutta Medical College, Calcutta and graduated in 1886.
Anandi Gopal Joshi: (March 31, 1865 – February 26, 1887) In the year 1886 another women from India also obtained a degree in Western medicine but she graduated from Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, USA and thus became first Indian to study medicine from abroad.
Anna Mani: (23 August 1918 – 16 August 2001) former Deputy Director General of the Indian Meteorological Department was an Indian physicist and meteorologist.She made significant contributions in the field of meteorological instrumentation. She studied meteorological instruments at Imperial College London and after returning to India in 1948, she joined the Meteorological department in Pune. She conducted research and published numerous papers on solar radiation, ozone and wind energy measurements. She authored two books, The Handbook for Solar Radiation data for India in 1980 and Solar Radiation over India in 1981.She won the K.R. Ramanathan Medal in 1987.
Rajeswari Chatterjee: She is the first Woman Scientist to pioneer the Field of Microwave Engineering and Antennae Engineering in India. She took and MS degree in Electrical Engineering from Michigan University, USA in 1949. Around 60 years ago, she was the only woman on the faculty in the Indian Institute of Science. She retired as Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Electro-Communication Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Banglore.
Some other women who pursued her career in Science and carved a niche for themselves were Dr. Jamini Sen, Emilie de Costa, Dr. Hilda Mary Lazarus, Ila Ghose.
Indian women who are well known for their work in the field of Science and Technology and worked in modern India are mentioned below:
Dr. Indira Hinduja: She delivered India’s s first test tube baby on August 6, 1986. She has also pioneered the Gamete Intra Fallopian Transfer (GIFT) technique resulting in the birth of India’s first GIFT baby on 4 January 1988. Previously She is an Indian gynecologist; obstetrician and infertility specialist based in Mumbai and are also credited for developing an oocyte donation technique for menopausal and premature ovarian failure patients, giving the country’s first baby out of this technique on 24 January 1991.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw: (born 23 March 1953) She is the Chairman & Managing Director, Biocon Limited a biotechnology company based at Bangalore. She is on the Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women and in business list on top 50 women released by the Financial Times’. In the year 1978, she started Biocon in the garage of her rented house in Bangalore with a seed capital of Rs. 10,000. Now the net worth of the company is more than $ 900 million. Now Biocon produces drugs for cancer, diabetes and auto-immune diseases. Product pipeline includes world’s first oral insulin, currently undergoing Phase III clinical trials.
Dr. Aditi Pant: She is an oceanographer by profession and the first Indian woman to visit the icy continent Antarctic. She was a part of the third Indian expedition to Antarctica in 1983-84 and was honoured with the Antarctica Award along with Sudipta Sengupta, Jaya Naithani and Kanwal Vilku for their outstanding contribution to the Indian Antarctic programme.She did her MS in Marine Sciences from the University of Hawaii and obtained doctorate from the London University in the Physiology of Marine Algae. She worked in The National Institute of Oceanography (Goa) and the National Chemical Laboratory (Pune).
Madhuri Mathur: About 40 years back she along with her engineer husband devised Summet mixer grinder. Before her venture, having a kitchen helper that could blend, chop, and mince at a touch of a button was just a dream for millions of Indian women. It was her strenuous efforts, hard work, skills, and labour that made Sumeet a household name.
Dr. Suman Sahai: She is the founder of the Gene Campaign in India. She is the voice of the millions of farmers all across the country. Her campaign is currently running in 17 states across the country. Dr Sahai is the brains and the brawn behind the patent campaign for Azadirachta indica (Neem) and Turmeric (Haldi). She believes that ‘nature’s technology can meet the needs of humanity’. Her name figures in the list of successful women pioneers in India because of her single-minded dedication to her cause, which made the Indian government sit up and take notice of the actual problems faced by Indian farmers.
Kalpana Chawla: (March 17, 1962– February 1, 2003) She was the first Indian-American astronaut and first Indian woman in space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. The NASA chief called her a “Terrific astronaut”. On February 1, 2003, the U.S. space shuttle Columbia with a seven-member crew that included Chawla, 41, disintegrated in flames over central Texas shortly before it was scheduled to land at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The list contains many names and cannot be included in a single post. To have more information about these pioneering women and other women in the field, you may read the books, I mentioned in the beginning of this post. NCSM salutes all women in the field of Science and Technology on the occasion of this International Women’s Day.