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Noted Women Scientists of India – an attempt at enumeration – In Scientio, Veritas

Noted Women Scientists of India – an attempt at enumeration

This morning opened on a bright note, with the news that Dr. Yamuna Krishnan, a professor at the Bangalore-based fundamental research organization, the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), has been awarded the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award, a science award in India given annually by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research of the Government of India for fundamental and applied research. Dr. Krishnan receives the award in Chemical Sciences for her work with the structure and dynamics of nucleic acids.

While this is indeed a happy news, it is not unmixed with a tinge of concern. The Bhatnagar Award was instituted in 1958; it seems a monumental shame that only 15 women (out of over 450 total awardees) were given this award until 2013! It certainly doesn’t bode well for women scientists in India, especially since India, as a country, has a rich heritage of erudite women educators and philosophers in ancient times.

This line of thought brought me back to an interesting exchange: a while ago, Priya Ravichandran (@binaryfootprint on Twitter), a program manager and writer with the Takshashila Institution, had thrown a challenge on Twitter, asking her followers to name top 5 women scientists of India without doing a Google search first. Easy-peesy, I thought. But as I tried to remember the names, I was mortified to discover that beyond a few, I couldn’t remember off-hand the names of any top tier Indian women in the pure sciences fields. Even in my dotage, this was embarrassing. So, with the help of a few kind friends on Facebook (Viva la social media!), I made a list. One caveat: the list, understandably, may be slightly biased towards women in bioscience and related fields – since many of my friends and I are biology researchers. However, I’d love it if you, dear readers, could come up with other names, and leave them in the comments, along with a few words in description.

Here’s the list.

Name Year Specialization Notes
Yamuna Krishnan 2013 Chemical Sciences Chemist, and Senior Assistant Professor at the NCBS, Bangalore; her current research interests include structure and dynamics of nucleic acids and DNA Nanotechnology; she is an Associate of the Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS).
Shubha Tole 2010 Biological Sciences Neuroscientist, faculty member at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai; major research interest: Genetic mechanisms and signaling pathways of the cerebral cortex and amygdala of the developing brain.
Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay 2010 Engineering Sciences Professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta; fellow of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and Indian National Academy of Engineering; main research interest: Computational Biology and genetic algorithms.
Mitali Mukerji 2010 Medical Sciences Scientist at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi; main research area: effects of genome variation on human phenotypes and susceptibility to diseases.
Charusita Chakravarty 2009 Chemical Sciences Professor of Chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; main research interest: theoretical chemistry, chemical, classical and quantum physics.
Rama Govindarajan 2007 Engineering Sciences Professor of Engineering Mechanics Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research; main research interests: instability and transition to turbulence of shear flows, physics of interfacial flows.
Sujatha Ramdorai 2004 Mathematical Sciences Professor at the School of Mathematics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai; Professor at Department of Mathematics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver; PhD student of Raman Parimala (see below); mathematician renowned for algebraic theory; fellow of IAS, NAS, Indian National Science Academy (INSA).
Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath 1996 Medical Sciences Current Chair, Center for Neuroscience, Indian Institute of Science (IISc); main research interests: pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders, disease modifying therapies.
Shashi Wadhwa 1991 Medical Sciences Current faculty member, All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences; main research interest: developmental neurobiology, quantitative morphology and electron microscopy.
Sudipta Sengupta 1991 Earth Sciences Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, Jadavpur University; fellow of INSA; conducted pioneering geological studies in Antarctica; expert mountaineer.
Manju Ray 1989 Biological Sciences Emeritus Scientist, Bose Institute, CSIR; former professor, Department of Biochemistry, Indian Association of Cultivation of Science; main research interest: tumor biochemistry and molecular enzymology.
Raman Parimala 1987 Mathematical Sciences Currently, Professor of Mathematics at Emory University; member of the INSA and IAS.
Indira Nath 1983 Medical Sciences Physician Scientist with major focus on immune responses in Leprosy; recipient of innumerable national and international awards, including Padmashree, the fourth highest civilian award in India; fellow and former vice president of the NAS; fellow of the IAS, National Academy of Medical Sciences, and many other national and international bodies.
Archana Sharma 1975 Biological Sciences (1932-2008) Scientist in the field of Cytogenetics and Genetic Toxicology; founding editor of the international journal The Nucleus; Second woman to be conferred a Doctorate of Science (D.Sc.) by University of Calcutta formerly, professor of Botany, University of Calcutta; member of INSA; author of several books on Chromosome and Genetic techniques. [Link to Obit]
Asima Chatterjee 1961 Chemical Sciences (1917-2006) Formerly Professor of Chemistry, University of Calcutta; first woman to be awarded a D.Sc. by an Indian university (University of Calcutta); noted for her work in organic chemistry and medicinal plants; member of INSA. [Link to Obit]

In addition to above, the following is a list of elected women fellows of prestigious national science bodies in India, such as IAS, NAS, and INSA. This compilation is gleaned from the websites of IAS, INSA, as well as individual institutions of the concerned scientists.

Name Fellowship Research area
Ashima Anand INSA Physiology and neurology of the cardiopulmonary system
Scientist at Vallavbhai Patel Chest Institute of the Delhi University; also, a member of the Committee on Ethics of the International Union of Physiological Sciences.
Manju Bansal INSA, IAS, NAS Molecular Biophysics, Structural and Computational Biology
Professor at the Molecular Biophysics unit, IISc; she did her PhD on collagen triple helix under the mentorship of world-renowned biophysicist GN Ramachandran; her work has elucidated the connection between DNA structure and specific functions such as transcription initiation and replication.
Mahtab Sohrab Bamji INSA, NAMS Nutritional Biochemistry
Emeritus Medical Scientist, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR); she has done seminal work in elucidating the physiology and biochemistry of vitamin B-complex.
Aparna Dutta Gupta INSA, IAS Insect Molecular Physiology
Professor at the School of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad; her recent work has included improved methods of pest control via application of biochemistry and insect physiology.
Joyoti Basu INSA, IAS, NAS Molecular and Cellular Biology
Professor at Bose Institute, CSIR; she has done in-depth and high impact work on interaction of innate immunity with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the TB bacillus.
Archana Bhattacharyya INSA, IAS, NAS Ionospheric Physics and Geomagnetism
Scientist and Director of the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism, Mumbai; she studies the dynamics and evolution of ionospheric irregularities, which are produced by unstable plasma in earth’s ionosphere, and scatter radio frequency waves.
Rajani Avinash Bhisey INSA, IAS Environmental Carcinogenesis, Molecular Epidemiology
Adjunct professor, University of Pune; she developed a hairless mouse model sensitive to tumor initiation and promotion by environmental agents, such as tobacco; she has identified genetic polymorphisms that confer high oral cancer risk to tobacco users.
Bimla Buti INSA, NAS Plasma Physics
Former Senior professor and Faculty Dean, Physical Research Laboratory; she held many national and international appointments.
Maharani Chakravorty INSA, NAS, NAMS Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering
Honorary Scientist at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, ICMR; her work has greatly enriched the fields of ribosomes and protein synthesis in Salmonella typhimurium, and of the functions of bacteriophage P22.
Vidya Avinash Arankalle INSA, IAS Virology
Director-In-Charge & Scientist, National institute of Virology; she has conducted excellent research work in pathogenesis of Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) and antibody immunity against HEV infection in pregnant women; she has developed a vaccine Candidate for HEV.
Madhu Dikshit INSA, IAS Pharmacology
Chief Scientist & Head, Division of Pharmacology, Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow; she has made seminal contributions in the understanding the role of Nitric Oxide in free-radical generation by innate immune cells, and in degenerative pathological conditions.
Chanda Jayant Jog INSA, IAS, NAS Astrophysics
Professor of Physics, IISc, Bangalore; many original contributions in the field of morphology and dynamics of galaxies, which have been used to interpret observational studies on galaxies.
Sandhya Srikant Visweswariah INSA, IAS Biochemistry, Protein Structure-Function and Signal Transduction
Professor of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics, at IISc, Bangalore; current research focus includes molecular mechanisms of signalling mediated by cyclic nucleotides, and phosphodiesterase enzymes.
Sampa Das INSA, NAS Plant Molecular Biology & Biotechnology
Professor of Plant molecular biology, Bose Institute, CSIR; she has worked on carbohydrate-binding insecticidal plant proteins that inhibit certain agricultural pests, and created transgenic rice, mustard, chickpea and tobacco that were resistant to these pests.
Kasturi Datta INSA, NAS, IAS Cellular and Molecular Biology
Formerly, Professor, School of Environmental Sciences, JNU; currently, adjunct professor, Special Center for Molecular Medicine, JNU; she has made numerous contributions to studies on mammalian physiological processes.
Sulochana Gadgil INSA, IAS Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, Evolutionary Biology
Primarily a mathematician, she is currently an Honorary Professor at the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences of IISc; she has contributed significantly to the understanding of monsoon dynamics, tropical convection, coupling of the tropical atmosphere to the oceans and agricultural strategies for a variable climate; she also spearheaded the efforts culminating in the Indian Climate Research Programme (ICRP).
Rohini Madhusudan Godbole INSA, IAS, NAS Theoretical High Energy Physics
Professor at the Center for High Energy Physics, IISc, Bangalore; she has done important work on hadronic structure of high-energy photons; she is also known for her hypotheses around innovative ways to seek new particles.
Sudha Gajanan Gangal INSA, IAS Cancer Immunology, Basic Immunology Genetic Diseases
Emeritus Professor at Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Biotechnology, Bharati Vidyapeeth in Pune; she had established the cancer immunology division at Cancer Research Institute, and developed several oral cancer cells lines and monoclonal antibodies that recognize a variety of cancer cells.
Rajinder Jeet Hans-Gill INSA, IAS, NAS Geometry of Numbers, Number Theory, Discrete Geometry
INSA Senior Scientist and Emeritus Professor at Punjab University. She is known to have made significant contribution to the field of pure mathematics.
Gaiti Hasan INSA, IAS Cellular and Molecular Biology, Genetics, Neuroscience
Senior Professor at the National Center for Biological Sciences, TIFR, Bangalore; current research interests include the role of intracellular calcium signaling in Drosophila growth and neuronal function, by which she seeks to understand role of calcium signaling in human disease.
Hiriyakkanavar Ila INSA, IAS Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry
Formerly, Professor at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur – same institution where she was the first woman to receive a PhD (1968); her research contributions are related to the design and development of novel and efficient synthetic methods for biomolecules, especially heterocyclic substances and domino reactions.
Jaya Sivaswami Tyagi INSA, NAS, IAS Molecular Biology of Mycobacteria
Professor at the Department of Biotechnology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; a long time researcher in mycobacteriology, she has made important contribution to the understanding of the intracellular dormancy phenomenon of this bacterial pathogen.
Sudesh Kaur Khanduja INSA, NAS, IAS Algebraic Number Theory
Currently, a Professor of Mathematics at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Mohali; her research contributions have been in theory of valuations, function field theory and algebraic number theory.
Renu Khanna-Chopra INSA, NAS Plant Biochemistry and Stress Physiology
Scientist affiliated with the Water Technology Center of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute; her work has involved photosynthesis in relation to crop productivity, mechanism of heterosis and drought resistance in crop plants, and she has successfully hybridized drought tolerant and high yielding wheat varieties.
Kamala Krishnaswamy INSA, NAS, IAS Medicine
Former Director of the National Institute of Nutrition, ICMR, where she also established the Advance Centre for pre-clinical toxicology at the Food and Drug Toxicology centre; her research has involved diet-cancer interactions, nutrient-drug interactions, environmental toxicology, non-communicable chronic diseases and vitamin B-complex deficiencies.
Usha Kehar Luthra INSA, National Academy of Medical Sciences (India) Pathology, Cytopathology, Cancer Research
Former Additional Director General, ICMR, and founder Director of the Institute of Cytology and Preventive Oncology, New Delhi; her work significantly progressed the understanding of cancer of uterine cervix, and the role of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in these cancers in India, she was also the Project Director of the National Cancer Registry Project and played a major role in establishing a network of population and hospital-based cancer registries for providing data for cancer research and control in India.
Chitra Mandal INSA, NAS, IAS Glycobiology, Immunology
Senior Scientist at the Infectious Disease and Immunology division of the Indian Institute for Chemical Biology (IICB), Calcutta; her current research interest involves the study of glycosylation of biomolecules in various physiological and pathological conditions.
Minnie Mariam Mathan INSA, National Academy of Medical Sciences (India) Pathology, Electron Microscopy
Physician Scientist with major focus on gastrointestinal ultra-structure; she made two important contribution to infectious disease research: (a) established an in vitro model of the pathogenesis of the intestinal lesion in Tropical Sprue, and (b) elucidated rotaviral etiology of acute diarrhea in children in India, as well as the mechanism of microbial diarrhea.
Asha Mathur INSA, NAS, IAS, National Academy of Medical Sciences (India) Medical Microbiology, Virology, Immunology
Professor and Head of General Pathology and Microbiology at Saraswati Dental and Medical College, Lucknow; her research contributions include diagnosis and investigation of a variety of viral diseases; several aspects of the viral disease, Japanese encephalitis, were elucidated via her studies; she first developed an immunofluorescence-based technique for rapid diagnosis of Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) infection in patients, and also helped develop an IgM capture ELISA kit for the diagnosis of JE; she initiated the AIDS surveillance center in UP.
Bittianda Kuttapa Thelma INSA, IAS, NAS Genetics
Professor of Genetics, University of Delhi; her work has involved the understanding of functional significance of repetitive sequences on the X and Y chromosomes, and genetics of complex traits of disease syndromes, such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, as well as inflammatory rheumatic and bowel diseases; she developed a DNA-based diagnostics for Fragile X syndrome.
Soniya Nityanand NAS, IAS Immunology, Hematology, Stem Cells
Professor and Chair of Hematology department at the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow; her wide-ranging current research interests include basic biology and therapeutic applications of human mesenchymal stem cells, biology and characterization of human bone marrow derived multipotent adult progenitor cells; she has also worked extensively on immune mediated disorders and hematological malignancies.
Veena Krishnaji Parnaik INSA, IAS Cell Biology
Chief Scientist at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology; her work has significantly elucidated the functional organization of the mammalian cell nucleus, especially the role played by a fibrous nuclear protein called lamin in mediating spatial coordination of transcription and splicing; her observations have progressed the understanding of inherited diseases termed laminopathies.
Poonam Salotra INSA Molecular Parasitology and Immunology
Deputy Director and Scientist, ICMR National Institute of Pathology, New Delhi; she is an acknowledged expert in the field of leishmaniasis; ongoing research interests include genomics, vaccines, diagnostics, immunopathologies, and mechanism of drug resistance in visceral and cutaneous leishmaniasis.
Vinodini Reddy INSA, National Academy of Medical Sciences (India) Nutrition
Physician Scientist with important contributions in the field of infant nutrition and growth, nutrition-immunity interactions, protein energy malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency; her research has had significant impact on food and nutrition policies and programs in India.
Rentala Madhubala INSA, IAS, NAS, National Academy of Medical Sciences (India) Molecular Parasitology, Functional Genomics
Professor, School of Life Sciences, JNU, New Delhi; she is an acknowledged expert in the field of leishamania research; ongoing research interests include identification of chemotherapeutic targets, development of diagnostic biomarkers for drug resistance in leishmania and identification of potential vaccine candidates.
Somdatta Sinha IAS, NAS, INSA Theoretical and Computational Biology, Complex systems
Currently, a Professor of Biology at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali; formerly, a Professor at CCMB, Hyderabad. Her research interests include theoretical biology, nonlinear dynamics and complex systems, with the aim to understand the logic and design of biological processes. Her work has also involved analysis of epidemiological data of infectious diseases, studies in host-parasite evolution using genomic data and computational modeling, and use of graph theory to understand macroscopic properties of intracellular networks. In addition, she is an avid Science Educator.
Handanahal Subbarao Savithri INSA, NAS, IAS Plant Molecular Virology, Protein Biochemistry
Professor of Biochemistry, IISc, Bangalore; she has made significant contribution to the understanding of biochemistry and mechanism of viral infection of plants, and elucidated the natures of some plant viruses native to India; her work led to the development of transgenic cotton plants resistant to cotton leaf curl disease.
Chandrima Shaha INSA, IAS, NAS Cell Biology, Biochemistry
Staff Scientist, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi; her work has contributed to the understanding of the mechanisms of cellular defense from oxidative stress and modalities of cell death in both multicellular and unicellular environments; her earlier research involved physiology of reproduction and contraception, and she has served as a member of the ICMR Task Force on male contraception.
Bhagyashri Achyut Shanbhag INSA, IAS Reproductive Biology, Endocrinology
Professor of Zoology, Karnataka University; her research has made outstanding contributions to reproductive and behavioral ecology of South Indian Agamid lizards, elucidating reproductive events and socio-sexual mechanisms controlling reproduction. A first in her field in India, she successfully raised and bred the lizard Calotes versicolor in captivity, and demonstrated how the lizards trade-off energy for manipulation of many reproductive physiological processes; she was one of the first to provide experimental proof to the “stress induced evolution of viviparity” hypothesis.
Ajit Iqbal Singh INSA, NAS Functional Analysis, Harmonic Analysis
Formerly, a Professor of Mathematics at University of Delhi, and currently, an INSA Senior Scientist; she has worked in the “areas of linear operators in locally convex spaces, locally convex algebras, spectral synthesis on hypergroups, applications of harmonic analysis to differential equations and orthogonal polynomials, geometry of the range of a vector measure, and Quotient Rings of algebras of functions and operators” (Note: Text quoted from her INSA page, because I have no clue about Mathematics.)
Ramanathan Sowdhamini INSA Bioinformatics, Predictive Genomics
Associate Professor, NCBS-TIFR; current research interests include analysis of higher level structure and function of proteins and theoretical prediction of protein function from its structure using Bioinformatics and Genome Analysis tools.
Sarala Karumuri Subbarao INSA, NAS Cytogenetics of Malaria
Former Director of the Malaria Research Center, ICMR; an insect geneticist by training, she focused on biology, epidemiology, as well as insecticide resistance of mosquito vectors of various diseases including Malaria; her studies paved the way for the genetic control of mosquitoes; she also developed diagnostic assays to identify non-vector sibling species to the vectors, which helped develop effective control strategies for the malaria vectors.
Sulabha Kashinath Kulkarni INSA, NAS, IAS Nanotechnology, Materials Science, Surface Science
Professor of Physics, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune; she is recognized for her work on nanomaterials, hard coatings and high strength aerogels, and she was made noteworthy contributions in the field of Nanotechnology, Materials Science and Surface Science; she is also an enthusiastic author and science communicator.
Ushadevi Narendra Bhosle INSA, NAS, IAS Algebraic Geometry
Mathematical Scientist at TIFR; she is regarded as an expert in the field of “moduli spaces of torsionfree sheaves on singular curves” (Note. Again, quoted from her INSA page. I have no idea what these words mean.).
Usha Vijayraghavan INSA, IAS Molecular Genetics, Plant Development
Professor of Microbiology and Cell Biology at IISc, Bangalore; her current research interests involve the study of genes that control cell division and differentiation, and thereby regulate flowering and plant morphology; she also studies post-transcriptional gene regulation.
Chitra Sarkar NAS, IAS Neuropathology, neuro-oncology
Professor of Pathology at AIIMS, New Delhi; she is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in Neuropathology, where her work has made seminal contributions in several areas related to Central Nervous System malignancies; her research focus has included basic and translational research in Neuro-Oncology, Neuroendocrinology, Neuromuscular Diseases.
Pratima Sinha IAS Molecular Genetics of Yeast and Molecular Biology
Professor of Biochemistry, Bose Institute, Calcutta; her current research area focuses on DNA replication, segregation and cell cycle control in the budding yeast.
Anuradha Lohia IAS Biochemistry
Professor of Biochemistry at Bose Institute, Calcutta; using the protozoan parasite Entamoeba histolytica as a model organism, she studies regulation of phagocytosis, cell division and motility, as well as novel kinesins from eukaryotic pathogens.
Soumya Swaminathan NAS, IAS Pediatric Internal Medicine
Director for the ICMR National Institute for research in Tuberculosis in Chennai, where she leads a multi-disciplinary group of clinical, laboratory and behavioural scientists studying various aspects of TB and TB/HIV; her research contributions have involved investigation of treatment and prevention regimens for TB among HIV-infected adults and children, as well as nutrition, pharmacokinetics and pharmacogenetics of anti-TB and anti-HIV drugs in the Indian population.
Sudha Bhattacharya NAS, IAS Molecular Biology, Molecular Parasitology and Genomics
Professor at the School of Environmental Sciences, JNU; her group uses the protozoan parasite Entamoeba histolytica as a model system to study the biochemistry and molecular biology of various intracellular proteins.
Shobhona Sharma IAS Molecular Parasitology, Parasite Immunology and Parasite Metabolism
Senior Professor & Chair, Department of Biological Sciences, TIFR, Mumbai. Her current research interests include biology of the malaria parasite and host-parasite interactions, acquired immunity to malaria, nanolipid carrier-mediated delivery of antimalarials.
Shally Awasthi NAS, IAS, National Academy of Medical Sciences (India) Paediatric Pulmonology, Infectious & Parasitic Diseases, Clinical Trials
Professor of Pediatrics in Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (formerly King George’s Medical College), Lucknow; her area of research work is in child survival, especially after acute respiratory infections; her work has been instrumental in formulating national policy in this area.
Qudsia Tahseen IAS Nematology, Taxonomy & Functional Biodiversity of Soil and Freshwater Nematodes
Professor of Zoology, Aligarh Muslim University; her area of research is the taxonomy and developmental biology of terrestrial and aquatic nematodes. She is an internationally acknowledged expert in nematode taxonomy, and has contributed to the existing knowledge by inventorying numerous nematode taxa specific to the Indian habitats; she also studied their role as indicators in assessment of the environment quality particularly of Indian wetlands. She holds the distinction of being the first Asian to receive ONTA (Organization of Nematologists of Tropical America) Special Award (2005) for sustained excellence in Nematology.
Renee M. Borges IAS Evolutionary Biology & Behavioural Ecology, Plant-Animal Interactions
Professor, Center for Ecological Sciences, IISc, Bangalore; her research work specializes in the evolutionary ecology of inter-species interactions, and she investigates the sensory biology of these interactions, especially their chemical and visual ecology, using various insects as model systems.
Gomathy Gopinath NAS, IAS, National Academy of Medical Sciences (India) Developmental Neurobiology, Neural Plasticity
Former Head of Anatomy, AIIMS, and an internationally acclaimed neurobiology researcher.
Priyambada Mohanty-Hejmadi IAS Developmental Biology, Herpetology
An accomplished danseuse in the Odissi tradition of India, Priyambada Mohanty-Hejmadi left her dance recitals in favor of pursuing a career in science, which eventually brought her a Padmashri. She was a former vice-chancellor of Sambalpur University, and was an Emeritus Professor of Zoology at Utkal University, both in Orissa; she was one of the first scientists to demonstrate the phenomenon of homeosis, substitution of body parts, in vertebrates [Link to PDF], and had once worked on temperature-dependent sex determination in Olive Ridley turtles of Orissa, an effort which made way for conservation of these endangered species.
Namita Surolia NAS, IAS Molecular Parasitology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore; her group studies host-pathogen interaction in Malaria, and the current research interests include identification of malarial parasite specific targets for drug development, study of the role of plastid in the parasite, and analysis of parasite fatty acid synthesis. She holds several global patents for anti-malarial agents.
Sangita Mukhopadhyay NAS, IAS Immunology, Cell Signalling, Communicable Diseases
Group Leader, Molecular Cell Biology Division at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting & Diagnostics; her current research interest is TB immunology, where she studies how various putative virulent proteins help the bacillus in establishing successful infection by counteracting the protective immune responses mounted by the host.
Jaya Naganathan Iyer IAS Algebraic Geometry
Professor of Mathematics, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai; she continues to work in her field actively, as well as teach and hold seminars.
Nahid Ali NAS, IAS Infectious Diseases & Immunology
Senior Principal Scientist, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, CSIR, Calcutta; her current research interests include diagnosis, immune regulation and drug induced immunomodulation in leishmaniasis, vaccination strategies and protein- and DNA-based candidate antigens, studies on immune stimulation pathways by liposomal vaccines.
Amita Aggarwal IAS Clinical Immunology, Rheumatology, Juvenile Arthritis
Additional Professor at the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow; her research interest includes autoimmune rheumatic diseases, especially Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Her current research is focused on the role of Toll like receptors and IL-1 gene polymorphism in pathogenesis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and the study of immune pathways involved using gene expression profiling.
Gagandeep Kang IAS Enteric Virology, Vaccines
Physician Scientist in the Department of Gastroenterology, Christian Medical College, Vellore; her research focuses on enteric infections, including rotaviral diarrhea, in children. She studies transmission modes and immune responses to design interventions, and hospital- and community-based disease surveillance utilizing new molecular techniques. Her clinical research work on rotavirus vaccines has lead to the establishment of facilities for Phase I to Phase III studies, as well as laboratory support for vaccine evaluation.
Amita Das IAS Plasma Physics, Turbulence, Electron Magnetohydrodynamics
Professor of Plasma Physics, the Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar; her research in plasma science and electron-magentohydrodynamics has brought her international recognition; her work on “Study of Plasma Turbulence” brought her the recognition from the Department of Atomic Energy – Science Research Council for the Outstanding Research Investigator award in 2006.
Sudeshna Sinha IAS Nonlinear Dynamics, Chaos, Complex Systems
Currently, Professor of Physics, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali; her work on Chaotic systems is internationally known, and has been featured in the media in connection with its implications for computing systems.
Tanusree Saha-Dasgupta NAS, IAS Condensed Matter Physics, Computational Materials Science, Electronic Structure Calculations
Professor of Physics, SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Calcutta; her current research interests include: first principles electronic structure calculation and study of magnetic, optical and electronic properties of complex materials, and realistic theory of strongly correlated electron system.
Paramjit Khurana INSA, NAS, IAS Plant Biotechnology, Comparative Plant Genomics
Professor of Plant Molecular Biology, University of Delhi. Her research interests include wheat biotechnology, silk biotechnology and somatic embryogenesis.
Purnima Bhargava NAS, IAS Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Eukaryotic Transcription, Epigenetics & Chromatin
Scientist, CCMB, Hyderabad; her research interest involves the process of gene transcription in relation to the chromosome, emphasizing on assembly of eukaryotic transcription complexes, epigenetics of transcription, chromatin organization, dynamics, and mechanisms.
Melkote Subbarao Shaila IAS Molecular Virology, Viral Immunology
Professor Emeritus, Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology, IISc, Bangalore; her major research interests are transcription and replication processes catalysed by the RNP complex of two morbilliviruses, and the development of recombinant subunit vaccines; she is also working to understand the molecular epidemiology of the bacteria Streptococcus in India.
Andezhath Kumaran Susheela IAS, National Academy of Medical Sciences (India) Histocytochemistry, Toxicology of Fluoride
Executive Director, Fluorosis Research & Rural Development Foundation; formerly, Professor of Anatomy and Chief of the Fluoride and Fluorosis Research Laboratories at AIIMS; she has been a vocal opponent of artificial fluoridation of water, and has made depositions against the process in many countries.
Saraswathi Vishveshwara NAS, IAS Computational Biology, Molecular Dynamics & Application of Graph Theory to Biomolecular Structure/Function
CSIR Emeritus Professor of Molecular Biophysics, IISc, Bangalore; her main research interest is focused on the understanding of Protein-Structure, Folding, Function and Dynamics through computational biology approaches.
Mythily Ramaswamy NAS, IAS Nonlinear Functional Analysis, Partial Differential Equations, and Applications to Control Problems
Professor, TIFR Center for Applicable Mathematics; her main
 equations, which includes
 solutions; her work has important implication for Engineering systems. [Link to an excellent essay about Dr. Ramaswamy by a Florida student.]
Hemlatha Balaram IAS Molecular Enzymology, Molecular Parasitology and Protein Engineering
Professor, Molecular Biology & Genetics Unit, JNCASR, Bangalore; the main research focus of her lab is to understand the biochemistry of the malarial parasite; using protein engineering/ mutagenesis, spectroscopy and X- Ray crystallographic techniques, her group studies various enzymes of the parasite, working towards the development of new antimalarial drugs.
Apurva Sarin IAS Immunology, Cell Biology, Apoptosis
Professor of Immunology, NCBS-TIFR, Bangalore. Her current primary research focus is the mechanisms that govern programmed cell death (apoptosis) in mammalian cells; using model cell lines, her group explores molecular and biochemical correlates of cellular responses to death or survival cues, which are important for the maintenance of the mammalian immune system, apart from other systems.
Indrani Bose IAS Condensed Matter Physics
Senior Professor of Physics, Bose Institute, Calcutta; she is recognized for her work in magnetism in Condensed Matter, strongly correlated systems and exactly soluble quantum models. Her current research interests also include Quantam Information theory, Statistical Mechanics, and Systems Biology.
Veronica Filomena Rodrigues INSA, IAS Developmental Biology, Genetics
(1953-2010) Formerly, Professor of Biology at TIFR, Mumbai; Senior Professor at the NCBS-TIFR, Bangalore; was internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of neurobiology of smells [Link to Obit].
Krishna Kamini Rohatgi-Mukherjee INSA Photophysics, Photochemistry, Spectroscopy
(1924-2009) Formerly, Professor and Chair of Department of Physical Chemistry at Jadavpur University, Calcutta; she had the distinction of being the first woman member of the Indian Society of Lighting Engineers, and was the founder of Indian Photobiology Society [Link to Obit].
Edavaleth Kakkat Janaki Ammal Founding Fellow of IAS Cytogenetics, plant geography ethnobotany
(1897-1984) Emeritus Scientist with Center for Advanced Studies in Botany, University of Madras; main research interest: cytogenetics, plant geography, ethnobotany; recipient of Padmashri for her contribution to science. [Link to Life and Times.]
Sipra Guha Mukherjee IAS, NAS Botany, Plant Molecular Biology
(1938-2007) Former Professor of Plant Molecular Biology at JNU; mid-60s onwards, she did seminal work that gradually established her as an expert of Plant tissue culture and Plant Biotechnology; fellow of IAS and NAS. She had a charming, serious personality, and was extremely pro-student as a professor. I have been a student in one of her courses. [Link to Obit].
Swaran Nityanand INSA Nanotechnology, Materials Science, Surface Science
(1929-2012) Dr. Swaran (sometimes written as Swarn) Nityanand is the mother of Dr. Sonia Nityanand whose name features above; I mention this because PubMed and other database searches for her are made difficult by the fact that her daughter, also “S Nityanand”, has been featuring prominently in research papers from around late 90s. Dr. Swaran Nityanand appears to have been a long term associate of the Central Drug Research Institute of Lucknow; during this time, she was involved in research, development and clinical trials of at least three medicinal substances: centporpazine, an anti-depressant; centchroman, a non-hormonal anti-fertility agent (which works by selectively inhibiting estrogen receptors, and is still in use in India under a few brand names); and gugulipid, a cholesterol-lowering agent of plant origin (from gum of the Myrrh tree Commiphora wightii; despite favorable mode of action, its performance in large-scale clinical trials was questionable). She also appears to have worked on atherosclerosis and pulmonary hypertension. I couldn’t find much more information on her.

Apart from these luminaries, I learnt about several other celebrated women scientists of India in course of this exercise: see the following list. Note that I have tried to include only those who made some contribution to science as a researcher – which means I have omitted some names of accomplished women professionals in the field of medicine and healthcare.

* Shobhana Narasimhan Professor of Physics at the Theoretical Sciences Unit, JNCASR, Bangalore; her current research interests include Condensed Matter physics, physics of metal surfaces and computational nanoscience. She is also a vocal advocate of women’s participation in science in India.
* Padmavathy Bandopadhyay Born in 1944, she had the distinction of being simultaneously many firsts: the first woman officer to have completed the Defence Service Staff College course in 1978, and to command the Indian Air Force’s Central Medical Establishment; the first woman Air Force officer to become an aviation medicine specialist, and eventually the Director General Medical Services (Air); the first woman officer to be promoted to the rank of Air Vice Marshal and then Air Marshal; the first woman Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Society of India and the first Indian woman to have conducted scientific research at the North Pole (during late 80s, studying the physiology of extreme cold acclimatization). She was also the the first Lady Honorary Surgeon to the President of India.
* Vineeta Bal Physician Scientist and Professor at the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi. Her research interests include the analysis of the roles of T lymphocytes in pathophysiological conditions.
* Rupamanjari Ghosh Professor of Physical Sciences at JNU; her varied research interests include Experimental and Theoretical Quantum Optics, Laser Physics, Nonlinear Optics, Quantum Information, Quantum Measurement, and Magneto-Optics. She is well known for her advocacy for gender-justice and environment-consciousness.
* Manikuntala Kundu Senior Professor of Chemistry at the Bose Institute, Calcutta; her current research interests include host interactions with pathogens Helicobacter pylori and Mycobacteria, stress response in Mycobacteria in cellular and genetic level, and study of bacterial efflux pumps and their role in drug resistance.
* Neelima Gupte Currently, Professor of Physics at IIT Madras, with research interest in nonlinear dynamics, statistical physics, and chaos; she also studies spatio-temporal intermittency in extended systems, chaotic advection and networks.
* Chitra Dutta A physicist and Fellow of the NAS, she is currently Scientist and Coordinator of the Bioinformatics Center, IICB, Calcutta; she specializes in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. Her wide research interests include in silico analysis of genome/proteome architectures of host/vector/pathogen systems, and she is internationally acclaimed for her work in these areas.
* Anita Mehta Physicist, currently an Associate Professor at the SN Bose National Center for Basic Sciences, Calcutta; her research interests include complexities in natural/granular and intelligent systems, whose examples abound in the natural and human world. She has explored game theory, nonlinear dynamical systems, theories of surfaces and interfaces, and most recently, a cosmological model for the aggregation of black holes. She is internationally recognised as a pioneer of sandpile physics.
* Aruna Dhathathreyan Currently, a Scientist at the Central Leather Research Institute; a biophysical chemist by training, she specializes in spectroscopy of bio-molecules, protein/lipid interactions at interface, material and interface research.
* Archana Sharma Nuclear Physicist, and Staff Scientist at CERN.

This compilation has 104 names. There are some I am sure I have missed. If you know of prominent Indian women scientists not in these lists, please let me know in the comments. I have included only those who had a modicum of web presence, so that I could find out some information about them. For instance, I found the mention of noted ornithologist and conservationist Dr. Asha Chandola-Saklani, an IAS Fellow and currently Dean of School of Biological sciences at Apeejay Stya University in Haryana; but I omitted her from the list, because I failed to find any other information of substance about her. I am sure there are others like her. In addition, my lists have decidedly had a bias towards the natural sciences – biology, physics and chemistry. So if you are aware of top scientists working in other disciplines of science, pure and applied, please let me know.

Oh, and if you are interested in knowing more about the women scientists of India, you must check out this series from the Women in Science project of the Indian Academy of Sciences, called Lilavati’s daughters; it is a collection of biographical essays about past women scientists of India, as well as autobiographical essays written by some current women scientists.


  1. Keya Dharamvir

    consider adding Prof. Suman Bala Beri:
    Experimental High Energy Physics. Senior member of the team from Panjab University, participating in the CMS experiment. Has also been a member of the D-Zero experiment at Fermilab. Has over 400 research papers.
    If you are interested, I can ask her to send a more complete writeup. Can be contacted at

    • Kausik Datta

      Thank you, Keya, for this valuable information. I’d request you to hold off on a complete write-up as of now, but a short paragraph may be fine.

      • Prof. Meenakshi Banerjee

        Hello Kaushik, Just happened to tumble over your article on Noted Women Scientists of India almost one year later after its publication. Also saw your reference of Lilawatis daughters. Just a line to say that my name is in Lilawatis daughters 12th Position. I am not saying you include my name but if you need more info shoot me an email.

        • Kausik Datta

          Prof. Banerjee, I would be most interested to learn more about you and your accomplishments. Please write. I have sent you an email, so that you can simply reply to that.

  2. Anindita Bhadra

    Consider adding Rohini Balakrishnan, CES, IISc, Bangalore to your list. This is a very nice exercise that you did, thank you.

    • Kausik Datta

      Thank you, Anindita. I appreciate your valuable input. I shall try to find out more about Dr. Balakrishnan and add her to the list. If you know of any other, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

  3. grrrrrr

    Loved it… Great info…

  4. Anjana Chattopadhyay

    In addition to Dr Kaushik Datta’s enumeration of women scientists of India there are over 250 noted women scientists who made visible impact upon the scientific development of India. Please visit following links to explore development of science & technology in India through following links:

    (The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer, 2005 included about 14 ancient Indian astronomers, and all of them cited the above mentioned author)
    (As per Worldcat there are more than 25 universities in USA having the book in their collection)
    5. The these books on Indian scientists have been used as yard stick for measuring scientific output and development of India.

    • Kausik Datta

      Thank you, Anjana. That’s a good set of resources.

    • Anjana Chattopadhyay

      A new book has been published. “Women Scientists in India”. New Delhi, National Book Trust (India), 2018. 492p.

      It is an indispensable reference tool having wide spectrum of audience starting from school level children to University level research scholars. It is useful to any layman, who is interested to know about the scientific accomplishment of Indian women. It is an excellent source book of history of science and gender studies. It will be very useful to press and media. It will be an authentic source document to Government Organizations, Academic Institutions, Scientific and Professional centres to measure, compare and evaluate their scientific achievements of the past and framing their future plan to achieve target of excellence in advance. It will serve as a readily available consultation tool to planners and policy makers to measure the resources provided for the development in the past and improve the scenario in future. It is bound to be an essential reference tool for any library. It can also be used as scientific roaster for various purposes. It is a subject area which is widely read and consulted. It will be an essential title for the collection of the Office of High Commissioners representing India in abroad. The subject has good national and international appeal. The document has been especially designed to fill up the gap of literature related to the subject, which was long overdue.
      The document reveals the vivid picture of evolution of Indian women from “Purdanasheen State” to self-sufficient and determined individuals, occupying prestigious top positions of several national/international scientific institutions today. It is a story of changing status of women in the modern world. The work is a fascinating blend of history, biography, science and gender studies. It will serve as a platform to showcase the glory of Women Scientists in India. It will serve as a source of inspiration for younger generation to be more creative and innovative. Author sincerely hopes that the document will be able to initiate passion and spark for future budding scientists to transform their dreams in to reality. The book contains 175 biographies.

      • admin

        Thank you, Anjana.

  5. Aparna

    That’s a very informative post! Sadly, women scientists are often ignored and scarcely spoken of, so thank you for writing a post about them.

    I would like add the name of Dr. Manju Sharma to the list:

    • Kausik Datta

      Yes, of course. I knew her from my AIIMS days. Thank you, Aparna, for reminding me. This is a larger conversation that needs to be continued.

  6. pooja

    This is really an informative site for me as a bachelor’s student in biotechology, good to know about these women scientists of India, honestly aspire to be one among them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

    • Kausik Datta

      I am glad you found this post informative, Pooja, and I wish you all the very best in your quest for scientific accomplishments.

  7. Tanaya

    Dear Kaushik,
    I have made a similar list (still in a draft form in my blog though, have not yet posted). I am extremely glad to see some one has already done that. Lilavati’s daughters (as you mentioned) is an effort I genuinely respect. Being an active supporter of women in STEM fields, I feel so thankful for your effort to acknowledge Indian women scientists.
    I do not think your list is biased towards biological/medical sciences, there actually are fewer women in math/engineering. One name that jumps into my mind, which you may want to include, is Shivani Agarwal (IISC, Computer Science).
    – best, Tanaya

  8. Ms.Ramya

    It is a inspirational article. I am to happy to know about these outstanding women achievers/scientists of India. As a History professor, i am tempted to undertake a historical study on the modern indian scientists. Thanks for stirring creativity.
    you stand true to these words ” If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”

  9. sudha

    Informative article. Please add Anandi Joshi, the first woman physician and Mangala Naralikar to your list. plz Google ’10 Indian women you should be proud of ‘ to add to your list of women scientists.

    • Kausik Datta

      Thank you Sudha for your kind words and mentioning the names of Dr. Anandibai Joshi and Dr. Mangala Narlikar (both of them are included in the book Lilavati’s Daughters that I mentioned in my post). As I wrote in my post: “Note that I have tried to include only those who made some contribution to science as a researcher – which means I have omitted some names of accomplished women professionals in the field of medicine and healthcare.” This is also why Dr. Narlikar didn’t feature in my list, since by her own admission, she wrote in Lilavati’s Daughters, she would describe herself “… as a part-time scientist, if a pure mathematician can be called a scientist at all.”

  10. kasun

    Good job

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