5 Indian Women Who Made A Mark In The Field Of Science Post-Independence

Posted: October 2, 2015

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We talk about 5 Indian women who have made a mark in the field of science Post Independence. After all, they thrived in a male-dominated field.

Women and science is a combination which is difficult for a lot of people to fathom. As complex as this combination might sound, women have been making great advancements in the field of science. This phenomenon is not just limited to the world, but can also be easily noticed in India. India women have made significant contributions to the field of science even from the days when the basic right to education was denied to them.

Even now, when the girl child’s literacy rate is dismal in various parts of India, there are many torch bearers who are breaking a very prominent mass perception that science is a “guy’s subject”. Although there is no dearth of great women scientists and discoverers like Madame Marie Curie and Margaret Mead, the myth of science not being a girl’s field still remains to be dispelled. While we celebrate the success of male achievers in the field of science, there is a robust list of female scientists that every Indian should be proud of.

Following is the list of Indian women scientists with an illustrious career which has garnered accolades from all corners. Their contributions serve as an inspiration to both men and women alike as these role models put India on the world map.

Dr. Maharani Chakravorty

Ms. Chakravorty is a molecular biologist. She is responsible for organizing the first one of a kind laboratory course on recombinant DNA techniques in Asia and Far East back in 1981. After completing her post-doctoral studies in the US, she returned to Kolkata, her birth place. In Kolkata she joined the Bose Institute and undertook various research projects.

A mother at that time, she recalls taking her infant to the workplace.

“The poor child used to sit on the rubber sheet spread on the floor of the laboratory playing with test tube stands, right there in front of my working bench.”

Later in her career after joining the Banaras Hindu University and after various successful research projects, she helped to establish the Molecular Biology Unit at the Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU, with Dr. Debi Prosad Burma, her husband.

She is the recipient of various prestigious awards and honors; most significant being the Professor Darshan Ranganathan Memorial Award in 2007.

Tessy Thomas

Also known as the ‘Missile woman of India’; Tessy’s story is the stuff of legends. Born in 1964 in Alappuzha, Kerala, she was always fascinated with anything to do with rockets as missiles. As a rocket launching station was near her home, she had dreams to follow the league of all the great Missile men.

Not only did her dreams come true, she is still soaring high by adding more feathers to her cap. Tessy was the associate project director of the 3,000 km range Agni-III missile and then went on to become the first female scientist to head a missile project in India with the successful launch of Agni IV.

Former Prime Minister is one of the many admirers of Agniputri, as she is lovingly called by Media. He went on record to express his admiration for her while addressing the Indian Science Congress and saying that “Mrs Thomas is an example of a woman making her mark in a traditionally male bastion and decisively breaking the glass ceiling”.

She has been conferred the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for her outstanding contribution of making India self-reliant in the field of missile technology.

Dr. Aditi Pant

Aditi Pant is an Indian oceanographer. She was the first Indian woman in Antarctica along with Sudipta Sengupta. She was part of the Indian expedition to Antarctica in 1983. The book Open Sea written by Alister Hardy lead to her love affair with oceanography while doing her B.Sc. in Pune. She later got a US government scholarship to study MS in marine sciences in the University of Hawaii. After doing her PhD from London she started her research career at the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa. She participated in the third and fifth Indian expedition to Antarctica to research about oceanography and geology.

She has been conferred with the Antarctica award with Dr. Jaya Naithani and Dr. Kanwal Vilku by the government of India for her contributions to the Antarctic program.

Dr. Mangala Narlikar

Born in a family where she could not question her parent’s authority Dr. Narlikar always wanted to have a career. She was a brilliant student from the very beginning. She did her Masters in Mathematics while devoting her spare time to paint and read.

Her desire to study more lead her to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research; where she soon got promoted to the post of a research associate. She married around the same time to a fellow mathematician, Dr. Jayant Narlikar. She then went on Cambridge to pursue her interest in her beloved subject, mathematics.

Her exemplary life is an inspiration for many. She donned many hats ranging from a teacher, student of mathematics, a Daughter-in-law, doting Mother and a loving wife with ease. Due to her excellent tight rope walking skills enjoying all of these roles was a cake walk for her. One could see her sitting in the lawn of the house, teaching mathematics to the house-help’s children.

Dr. Kalpana Chawla

The esteemed list of all the phenomenal scientists would always be incomplete without the mention of this small town girl with really big dreams. Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, where she completed her Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering. She then decided to move to the US to fulfil her dream to be an Astronaut. She earned two Masters Degrees and PhD in aerospace engineering and began her career in 1988. She worked at the NASA Ames research Center as Vice President of Overset Methods, Inc. where she did Computational fluid dynamics(CFD) research onVertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts. She also held a Certificated Flight Instructor rating for airplanes, gliders and Commercial Pilot licenses for single and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and gliders.

Her excellent record helped her get selected by NASA in December 1994 and she reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995 as an astronaut candidate in the 15th Group of Astronauts. In January 1998, she was assigned as crew representative for shuttle and station flight crew equipment, and subsequently served as lead for Astronaut Offices Crew Systems and Habitability section. She flew on STS-87 (1997), becoming the first Indian woman in space, and STS-107 (2003), logging 30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in space.

It was during the return of STS-107 that the world lost some of its most brilliant minds when the space shuttle disintegrated sixteen minutes prior to its landing. All the seven crew members lost their lives after working 24 hours a day, in two alternating shifts. The crew also conducted approximately 80 experiments.

Ms. Chawla’s daring spirit won her many awards posthumously including the prestigious Congressional Space Medal of Honor and NASA Distinguished Service Medal. A lot of institutes where she had studied started many award programs in her name. Kalpana Chawla’s name invokes a great sense of pride not just in Indian women but the women all over the world. Not just her actions but her words continue to inspire many; the most famous ones being, “You are just your intelligence”.

There is a long list of women with brilliant minds making a mark in the field of science. India is beaming with many young minds about to make their foray as scientists and doctors. I don’t think that day is far when many of us won’t feel uncomfortable with mention of women and science in the same sentence.

Kalpaa Chawla’s image via Wikipedia

Tessy Thomas’s image via YouTube screengrab

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  1. I used to think after Madam Curie the era of woman scientists is over. it a great info on woman scientists of India…..congrats to all them….Thanks for bringing out…

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