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Remembering Kamala Sohonie on her Birth Anniversary


Famous Personalities  •  19 Jun, 2023  •  1,737 Views  •  ⭐ 5.0

Written by Shivani Chourasia


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Today, we honour the memory of Kamala Sohonie, the first Indian woman to earn a PhD in a scientific discipline, whose life and work transformed the face of scientific research in India. Born on June 18, 1911, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Kamala Sohonie hailed from a family of chemists. Following the family tradition, she graduated with a BSc degree in Chemistry and Physics from Bombay University in 1933​.

Indian Institute of Science

Image Credits: The Indian Express 

Driven by her passion for research, Kamala applied for a research fellowship at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru. However, she faced gender bias from the then-director and Nobel Laureate, Prof. C V Raman, who denied her admission because women were not considered competent enough for research. Rather than accept this, Kamala staged a 'satyagraha' outside Raman's office, eventually securing her admission, though under certain stipulations, including being on probation for the first year and not being officially recognized until Raman himself was satisfied with her work​. Despite these challenging circumstances, Kamala agreed to the terms, becoming the first woman to be admitted to the institute in 1933. Her courage and determination paved the way for many other women to gain admission to the institution​.

Cambridge University

Image Credits: Feminism in India

During her time at the IISc, Kamala worked under Sri Srinivasayya, conducting significant research on proteins in milk, pulses, and legumes. Her exemplary work influenced Prof. Raman's decision to allow women into the IISc a year after she completed her MSc degree with distinction in 1936​. Following her tenure at the IISc, Kamala was invited to Cambridge University, where she worked under Dr Derek Richter in the Frederick G. Hopkins laboratory. Here, she made a significant discovery from her work on potatoes - the enzyme 'Cytochrome C', which plays a crucial role in the electron transport chain found in plants, human, and animal cells​.

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Research in India

Image Credits: Indian Academy of Sciences

Returning to India in 1939 after receiving her PhD, Kamala worked at various institutions, including the Department of Biochemistry at Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi and the Nutrition Research Laboratory in Coonoor. Her research primarily focused on the effects of vitamins and the nutritional values of food items consumed by the poorest sections of the Indian population​.

Neera

Image Credits: Indian Academy of Sciences

Kamala Sohonie made a significant contribution to nutrition science with her work on the palm extract 'Neera'. Her research demonstrated its nutritional benefits, particularly for malnourished children and pregnant women, and earned her the Rashtrapati Award​. Moreover, Kamala broke yet another glass ceiling by becoming the first female director of the Royal Institute of Science in Bombay, continuing her legacy of pioneering work in the scientific discipline​.

Conclusion

On her birth anniversary, we remember and celebrate Kamala Sohonie, a trailblazer who overcame gender bias and societal norms to make significant contributions to the field of biochemistry. Her courage, determination, and dedication to her work continue to inspire and pave the way for future generations of women in science.

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