4 Legendary Indian Women In Science

- February 15, 2021

Although technology has evolved and advanced to a great extent, we often forget to give credit to the minds that contributed to it behind the scenes. Here are four such Indian women who have made notable contributions in various fields of science, but remain largely unknown to the world. Janaki Ammal  Illustration: Harsho Mohan Chattoraj  Janaki Ammal was a well-known botanist and plant cytologist who came from a middle-class family in Tellichery, Kerala. She received her honours degree in Botany from Presidency College in 1921 and further studied at the University of Michigan in the USA for her master’s degree in 1925. After returning with a master’s degree, she continued to teach at the Women’s Christian College. However, she soon returned to Michigan for her doctorate and came back to India in 1931.  She then worked at the Sugarcane Breeding Institute in Coimbatore, as a geneticist. From 1940-1951 she was in London working as a cytologist at the John Innes Horticultural Institution and then at the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisely. On returning to India in 1951, she reorganized the Botanical Survey of India, then went on to head the ‘Central Botanical Laboratory at Allahabad’ and was a special officer on duty in Jammu. Later, she worked in the Centre’s Field Laboratory at Maduravoyal until her demise. She made numerous contributions in the field of genetics, evolution, phytogeography, and ethnobotany. In 1935 and 1957, Janaki Ammal was elected as Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences and of the India National Science Academy respectively. She was also conferred an honorary LL.D in her name in 1956. In 1957, she received the Padma Shri, and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of India established the National Award of Taxonomy in her name.  Janaki Ammal’s passion for botany was ignited by living in the greenery in Kerala. She lived a simple unmarried life and completely dedicated herself to botany. Anna Mani  Illustration: Dilip Kadam Anna Mani was born into an upper-middle-class family in Travancore, where the men were groomed for high-level careers whereas the women were groomed for marriage. However, Anna Mani refused to settle for that fate and enrolled for an honours program in physics at the Presidency College in Chennai. A year after finishing college, in 1940,  she got accepted into C.V. Raman’s laboratory and received a scholarship to do research in physics at the Indian Institute Of Science. At Raman’s laboratory, she worked on analyzing the fluorescence, absorption, temperature dependence, and polarization effects of over thirty different diamonds. She single-handedly wrote over five papers on diamonds in the span of three years.  However, Anna Mani never got a PhD degree, for the Madras University that granted her scholarship for research at the Indian Institute of Science claimed that she did not have an M.Sc. degree; therefore, she couldn’t get a PhD. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop her. Soon after finishing her research in India, she left for England where she specialized in meteorological instrumen...

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