India has a rich history of great scientists who have brought immense pride to the nation. Among them, several women scientists have also contributed significantly to various disciplines of science. Their lives serve as role models for all girls aspiring to make a mark in science and technology.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most outstanding Indian female scientists ever.
List of Famous Indian Female Scientists
Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi (1865 – 1887)
Joshi was the first Indian woman physician and the first woman to graduate with a two-year degree in Western Medicine in the United States. She became a physician due to a personal life experience.
She was married at nine to a widower twenty years older than her. At fourteen, she gave birth to a son who died soon after due to insufficient medical care. The death of her newborn shook her and inspired her to become a physician. She did not want other children to suffer the same fate as her son.
Her husband encouraged her to study medicine abroad. She studied at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886; this was the first women’s medical programme worldwide.
Janaki Ammal (1897 – 1984)
Ammal was the first Indian scientist to have received the Padma Shri Award in 1977. She went on to occupy the reputed post of Director-General of the Botanical Survey of India. Her achievements make her count as one of the most famous Indian female scientists.
Ammal took up botany in the 1900s, an unusual choice for women then. She pursued an honours degree in Botany from the Presidency College in 1921. She pursued scientific research in cytogenetics — a branch of genetics concerned with how the chromosomes can relate to cell behaviour and phytogeography — concerning the geographic distribution of plant species.
Ammal’s most renowned work is on Sugarcane and Brinjal.
Kamala Sohonie (1912 – 1998)
She was the first Indian woman to achieve a PhD in a scientific field during a time when Indian women were conspicuously underrepresented in scientific disciplines. By breaking barriers and proving her naysayers wrong, Dr Sohonie did pioneering work in her field of biochemistry and helped forge a path for future Indian women to overcome gender bias and pursue their dreams. She is one of the most famous Indian female scientists.
She was rejected when she first applied for a research fellowship at the Indian Institute of Science because she was a woman. She was the first female student of Prof. CV Raman, the then IISc director. Seeing her excellent performance, he allowed her to pursue further research.
She discovered that every plant tissue cell contained the enzyme’ cytochrome C’, which was involved in the oxidation of all plant cells.
Asima Chatterjee (1917 – 2006)
An Indian chemist, she is regarded highly for her work in Organic Chemistry and Phytochemistry (chemicals derived from plants).
Asima graduated in Chemistry from the Scottish Church College of the University of Calcutta in 1936 and then pursued research.
Her most notable work includes research on vinca alkaloids (derived from the periwinkle known for its anti-cancer properties) and the development of anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs.
Rajeshwari Chatterjee (1922 – 2010)
The first woman engineer from Karnataka, Rajeshwari, received a government scholarship to study abroad in 1946. She studied at the University of Michigan, where she obtained her Master’s degree from the Department of Electrical Engineering.
After obtaining a doctorate, she returned to India. She joined the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science as a faculty member, where she and her husband set up a microwave research laboratory where they did pioneering work on microwave engineering.
Kalpana Chawla (1962 – 2003)
Among the famous Indian female scientists, Kalpana Chawla is an unforgettable name. Chawla was the first astronaut of Indian origin to have forayed into space. She first flew on a Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. She then moved to the United States in 1982. She obtained a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984 and earned a second Master’s in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado Boulder.
Chawla was one of the crew members who died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003. The tragedy occurred when the space shuttle disintegrated while returning into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Dr. Indira Hinduja
With a doctorate in ‘Human In Vitro Fertilisation and Embryo Transfer’ from Bombay University, Dr Indira Hinduja is an Indian gynaecologist, obstetrician and infertility specialist who pioneered the Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) technique resulting in the birth of India’s first GIFT baby on January 4, 1988.
Before this, she delivered India’s first test-tube baby at KEM Hospital on August 6, 1986. She is also credited for developing an oocyte donation technique for menopausal and premature ovarian failure patients, giving the country its first baby born using this technique on January 24, 1991.
Dr. Aditi Pant
A successful oceanographer, Dr Aditi Pant was the first Indian woman to visit Antarctica in 1983 as a part of the Indian expedition to study Geology and Oceanography.
Pant was inspired to take up Oceanography when she came across the book The Open Sea by Alister Hardy as a BSc student at the University of Pune. She got a US government scholarship to study an MS in Marine Sciences at the University of Hawaii. She did her PhD at Westfield College, London University. Her PhD thesis was based on the physiology of marine algae.
She has worked at the National Institute of Oceanography and the National Chemical Laboratory.
The above is a list of some of the well-known famous Indian female scientists who were pioneers in their areas of study. They overcame gender barriers and discrimination to follow their dreams. They continue to be remembered for contributing to their respective fields and serving as role models for women aspiring to enter science and technology.