These 11 Indian women contributed to science when it wasn’t easy for them



  • On the heels of the International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, the Indian government is recognising its women scientists to boost women participation in the field of science.
  • From cytogenetics to organic chemistry and social sciences, the ministry will set up 11 chairs in the name of 20th century women scientists, across universities in India.
  • According to the United Nations, women constitute merely 14% of the total 280,000 scientists, engineers and technologists in research development institutions in India. While in the research programmes, women account for a third of the PhD awardees.
On the heels of the International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, the Indian government is recognising its women scientists to boost women participation in the field of science.

From cytogenetics to organic chemistry and social sciences, the ministry will set up 11 chairs in the name of 20th century women scientists, across universities in India, Smriti Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development said. This includes the renowned anthropologist Irawati Karve and mathematician Raman Parimala.




The 11 chairs that will be set up for an initial period of five years will also be eligible for a research fund of nearly ₹1 crore.


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​Bibha Chowdhuri

​Bibha Chowdhuri

Physicist Bibha Chowdhuri is one of the early contributors of science — and has a ‘star’ named after her. In December 2019, the star which is nearly 340 light years away from us, was named ‘Bibha’ to honour Indian women's contribution in science.

Chowdhuri, who was known for her work on elementary particle physics and cosmic rays, was also the only girl student in her master’s course in Physics in 1934. She completed her post graduation from Calcutta University, after which she was actively involved in research projects in Physics.

She has also worked with Vikram Sarabhai, who is referred to as father of India’s space programme.

​Irawati Karve

​Irawati Karve

Irawati Karne is the first female Indian Anthropologist, who made her way in the male dominated discipline in the Indian society. Her multidisciplinary work includes storytelling and philosophy. Her famous book Yuganta was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for Marathi in 1968 — making her the first female author in the state to receive it.

She studied anthropology at a time when it was still unusual for women to study anthropology as it required diverse research across cultures. Later on, she served as the founding members and head of the anthropology programmes at various colleges. She founded the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pune in 1963 and also held the post of the Vice-Chancellor of SNDT University.

In fact, the Department of Anthropology, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Bhavan of Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) also has a museum called ‘Irawati Karve Museum of Anthropology,’ preserving the Indian cultural values.

​Kamal Ranadive

​Kamal Ranadive

One of the early cancer researchers of India, Kamal Ranadive was among the initial few scientists to claim that breast cancer has a relevance with heredity. She studied Botany and Zoology at Fergusson College to become one of the leading women scientists in the country — and has over 200 research papers to her name.

She also founded the Indian Women Scientists’ Association (IWSA) in 1973. The Association, today, even provides hostel and daycare facilities to its women researchers.

​Rajeshwari Chatterjee

​Rajeshwari Chatterjee

When scientific research was still in nascent stage, Rajeshwari Chatterjee became the first woman engineer in India. She later did her master’s in mathematics. In 1953, she was also the only woman faculty at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

Chatterjee has worked in the field of microwave engineering. She was awarded several recognitions including Mountbatten prize, J.C Bose Memorial prize and Ramlal Wadhwa Award for her research and teaching work at the Institute of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers.

She also practiced Radio Frequency Measurements at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington D.C, under the government of India.

Raman Parimala

Raman Parimala

Raman Parimala was an Indian mathematician known for her contribution to algebra. Parimala has several awards to her name — Bhatnagar Award, Srinivasa Ramanujan Birth Centenary Award, TWAS Prize — and was also a member of the Indian Academy of Sciences and American Mathematical Society.

She also worked as a professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai.

​Anna Mani

​Anna Mani

Anna Mani was an Indian meteorologist and physicist who worked on theories like solar radiation, ozone and wind energy instrumentation. In 1940, she was awarded a scholarship at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore where she worked under the great professor C V Raman, researching the optical properties of ruby and diamond.

She has published five research papers and later retired as the deputy director general of the Indian Meteorological department in 1976.

​Janaki Ammal

​Janaki Ammal

Janaki Ammal was the first woman botanist and also one of the first women scientists to receive the Padma Shri in 1977. She researched the chromosomes of flowering plants, sugarcane varieties, and hydro-electric projects.

In fact, Magnolia Kobus Janaki Ammal is a flower named after her.

​Kadambini Ganguly

​Kadambini Ganguly

Gynecologist by profession, Kadambini Ganguly was one of the first two women in India to have a college degree — and the first Indian to practice medicine. She worked as a doctor till she was 61.

She was also the first female speaker at the Indian National Congress.

​Asima Chatterjee

​Asima Chatterjee

Asima Chatterjee was the first Indian woman to be awarded a doctoral degree in science from an Indian university. She studied at the University of Calcutta and was the first woman president at the Indian Science Congress.

She was also awarded prestigious awards including Padma Bhushan for her contribution to science. Her other recognitions include S S Bhatnagar award, C V Raman award, and the P C Ray award. She worked in the field of medicinal chemistry and natural products.

​Archana Sharma

​Archana Sharma

Archana Sharma was an Indian woman botanist, a Cytogeneticist, Cell Biologist and a Cytotoxicologist. She was the founding editor of The Nucleus, which is an international journal of Cytology. She researched chromosomes of reproductive plants, pesticides and other environmental agents.

She was also associated with the government of India across departments including the Science and Engineering Research Council of the Department of Science and Technology, Environmental Research Council of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Darshan Ranganathan

Darshan Ranganathan

Darshan Ranganathan was a pioneer in organic chemistry and one of the early female students at the University of Delhi. She did multiple research fellowships and published several research papers and books in organic chemistry

She was also honoured with fellowship at the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1991. She was awarded with the Third World Academy of Sciences Award (TWAS) in Chemistry in 2000 for her achievements in bio-organic chemistry, particularly supramolecular assemblies, molecular design and chemical simulations.


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