Anna Mani, The Amazing Woman Who Pioneered Meteorology And Alternative Renewable Energy In India

Anna Mani is India’s visionary weather woman, a pioneer who helped India become self-sufficient in science - a tribute to her on 23rd August, her birth anniversary. 

“The brave women I knew have grown old.
Each was like a tree, or like a lighthouse,
Or like a gull circling the lighthouse, Or like a dolphin circling the gull,
Who circles the lighthouse
As my thoughts circle inadvertently.”
~ Tribute to Anna Mani by Suniti Namjoshi

Who was Anna Mani and what do we know of her early life?

Today’s Google Doodle pays a tribute to Anna Mani, known as India’s veteran weather woman. But who is she?

Anna Mani - Google Doodle

“My being a woman had absolutely no bearing on what I chose to do with my life.”Anna Mani

Anna Modayil Mani was born to a Syrian Christian family on 23rd August 1918 in Peermade, Travancore, Kerala, the seventh of eight children. Her family was well to do, and her father was a civil engineer who owned a cardamom estate, who was also agnostic despite being a Syrian Christian.

As a child, Anna Mani loved reading, for it opened up a whole new world to her. She is said to have finished almost all the books in her public library by the age of 12. Her love of books stood her in good stead later.

In 1925, Mahatma Gandhi visited her hometown during the Vaikom Satyagraha and left a deep impact on Anna Mani which set her on a different path in life than her siblings. She chose a life of personal freedom and a higher education, unlike her sisters. She also chose to wear only khadi for the rest of her life.  Although Anna Mani never joined any nationalist movements, she was deeply impacted by India’s freedom struggle, which instilled a deep sense of nationalism in her and a sense of doing something for her country.

Pathbreaking pursuit of education and life spent in the lab

Following high school, Anna Mani attended Women’s Christian College for her Intermediate Science course before transferring to Presidency College, Madras, it was also a time when opportunities for women in science were very limited. Education for women at the time was more focused on becoming better homemakers and mothers. Undeterred by the norms of her times, Anna Mani went on to earn her Bachelor of Science with honours in physics and chemistry in 1939, while also spending a year teaching at Women’s Christian College after receiving her degrees.

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In 1940, she won a scholarship to do research at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore under C. V. Raman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist researching optical properties of rubies and diamonds.

Under C.V. Raman’s mentorship, Anna Mani did a lot of path breaking work on light and the spectrum, and its behaviour through materials like crystal and even rarer material like diamonds. She recorded and analysed fluorescence, absorption, and the Raman spectra, including the temperature dependence and polarisation effects of over thirty different diamonds.

She went on to produce five single authored academic publications between the years 1942 to 1945 where she investigated the luminescence of diamonds. She also produced a PhD dissertation as a result of her study on the spectroscopy of diamonds and rubies at Madras University, but was denied the PhD just because she didn’t have a MSc (master’s degree in science), but was never discouraged by the setback. Her completed PhD dissertation remains in the library of Raman Research Institute, to this day.

Anna Mani was subsequently awarded a government fellowship by Madras University for an internship in England. She travelled to Imperial College in London in 1945 on a troop ship to study physics, but ended up focusing on meteorological instrumentation as it was the only scholarship available at the time. Her main focus became examining the calibration and standardisation processes for meteorological sensors.

Anna Mani helped India become self reliant in the field of meteorology

In 1948, she returned to India and joined the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) at Pune in the instruments division headed by S. P. Venkiteshwaran, a nationalist and a visionary in his field. Together they made great advancements and contributions to make India’s nationalist vision of self reliance in the field of science come true.

Before 1947, India didn’t have its own meteorological tools, and whatever were there were not up to the mark, so even simple meteorological instruments like thermometers and barometers had to be imported from abroad.

Venkiteshwaran had the vision to change this situation and make India self-reliant in the field of meteorology and weather instruments, inspiring Anna Mani to contribute in his noble endeavours. She went on to find the skilled manpower to work with these sophisticated machines revolutionising Indian meteorology. She went on to standardise the blueprint for about 100 weather instruments and began their production.

Find a better way to do it! was truly Anna Mani’s motto.

A visionary who saw the future and the importance of alternative renewable energy

Apart from traditional meteorological weather instruments, Anna Mani was also very interested in harnessing solar energy in India. However there was no uniform data on the seasonal and geographical distribution of solar energy in India, making it difficult to make progress in this area.

This did not deter her much, and she went on to set up stations across India to study solar radiation where she started to design and manufacture several instruments to measure radiation. Interestingly this was done during 1957-1958 which was also known as the International Geophysical Year.

Along with solar energy she also understood the amazing potentials of wind energy and what it would mean for India to be able to harness it successfully. This vision led her to set up wind measurement equipment across 700 sites in India to study wind patterns in different regions of India.

Today India is a world leader in harnessing the power of wind energy, and a lot of the credit belongs to Anna Mani’s and her vision.

We all are aware about the impact of the ozone layer on human life and its importance today. The debates on climate change are not possible without discussing the ozone layer. But back in the 1960s, the word was obscure and not many knew about the importance of the ozone layer.

But Anna Mani knew about the important role the ozone layer plays in protecting life forms on earth and was keenly interested in studying more about the ozone layer. This keen interest led her to develop an instrument to measure ozone called the ozonesonde which collected very reliable data on the ozone layer.

Anna Mani was made a member of the International Ozone Commission because of this important contribution to help India develop its own instruments to measure the ozone layer.

In 1963, Anna Mani went on to set up a meteorological observatory and an instrumentation tower at the Thumba rocket launch station successfully at Vikram Sarabhai’s request.

In 1976, Anna Mani retired as the Indian Meteorological Department’s deputy director general.

Anna Mani – an inspiration for ever

Anna Mani has written two books, Handbook of Solar Radiation Data for India (1980) and Solar Radiation over India (1981) which became the standard guides for students and engineers studying solar thermal systems. She also went on to set up a millimetre wave telescope at Nandi Hills, Bangalore.

Apart from her work, Anna Mani had many hobbies such as being in nature, trekking and bird watching. She was also active in many scholarly organisations and was a member of Indian National Science Academy, American Meteorological Society, and the International Solar Energy Society among others. She received many honours in her life and was the recipient of the INSA K. R. Ramanathan Medal in 1987.

In 1994 she suffered a stroke which left her paralysed. She passed away on 16 August 2001 in Thiruvananthapuram.

Anna Mani was known to have a very practical view and humble view of life and her achievements. She made light of the prejudices and discriminations she faced as a woman scientist in India and the rare achievement of becoming a woman physicist at the time. She never succumbed to victim politics and resisted falling prey to gender roles and judgments which differentiate between men and women’s intellectual capabilities.

Anna Mani is an inspiration to women today on how to not give in to gender stereotypes and roles and carve a path for themselves all the while staying humble.

She truly transcended the cultural limitations of her time and paved her own path all the way into the laboratory for future women scientists to follow.

Image source: YouTube and Google Doodle

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