Asima Chatterjee- First Indian Woman to Earn a Doctorate in Science

India has always put a feather on the cap when it comes to its contribution to the field of science and development. Throughout history, it is evident that along with men, Indian women too have been prominent contributors to science. One such great personality in the field of science was Ms. Asima Chatterjee

Prof. Asima Chatterjee was born in 1917 in Calcutta, British India. In spite of the regressive ideologies people possessed for women back then, Chatterjee’s family was extremely supportive of her education and encouraged her to be an academic. Her father was very interested in botany and Chatterjee shared in his interest. She graduated with honors in chemistry from the Scottish Church College of the University of Calcutta in 1936.

Asima Chatterjee received a master’s degree (1938) and a doctorate (1944) in organic chemistry from the University of Calcutta’s Raja bazar Science College campus, making her the first Indian woman to earn a doctoral degree in the field of science. She was acknowledged as the Doyenne of Chemistry. She specialized in synthetic organic chemistry and plant products as part of her doctoral research. Her research was directed by Professor Prafulla Kumar Bose, one of the pioneers in natural product chemistry in India. she was also inspired by the doyens of Indian science, like Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, Professor Prafulla Chandra Mitra, and Professor Janendra Nath Mukherjee, who influenced her career as a natural product scientist. In addition, she had research experience from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Caltech with László Zechmeister. Chatterjee’s research focused on natural products chemistry and led to the development of anti-convulsive, anti-malarial, and chemotherapy drugs. She made significant contributions in the field of medicinal chemistry with special reference to alkaloids, coumarins and terpenoids, analytical chemistry, and mechanistic organic chemistry over a period of 40 years. Her work led to the development of an epilepsy drug called Ayush-56 and several anti-malarial drugs.

She published around 400 papers in national and international journals and more than a score of review articles in reputed serial volumes. In addition to many citations in her work, much of it has been included in several textbooks.

She has won several prestigious awards such as the S S Bhatnagar award, the C V Raman award, and the P C Ray award; and is the recipient of the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award, in recognition of her contributions to the field of science. In addition to these accolades, she was also the first woman to be elected as the General President of the Indian Science Congress, a premier institution that oversees research in science. She was also nominated by the President of India as a Member of the Rajya Sabha from February 1982 to May 1990.

On the request of the late Professor Satyendra Nath Bose, FRS, she wrote Sarai Madhyamic Rasayan, a book in Bengali on chemistry for secondary school students, published by Bangiya Bijnan Parishad, an Institute for the Popularisation of Science founded by SN Bose himself.

In an era where people saw women as mere “property” that belonged to her husband, she rose to earn a name for herself. Due to her impeccable contribution to the field of science, she is truly an inspiration to many young girls. Being one of a kind, her achievements will be lauded for many more years to come.