Series: Women who changed the world - Kamala Sohonie

Kamala Sohonie, is known for being the first Indian woman to earn a PhD in a scientific discipline at a British University. Her determination towards becoming a scientist ultimately made her the face of Indian Women in Science.‘Her journey had many hurdles, starting by getting accepted to the Indian Institute of Science, to establishing her worth in science.


In the year 1933, Kamala Sohonie graduated with a B.Sc degree in chemistry (principal) and physics (subsidiary) from Bombay University. Thereafter, she wanted to enroll into a prestigious institute to do her research. So, she applied to the Indian Institute of Science, but her application was rejected. It was Sir C V Raman, a Nobel Laureate, who promptly refused her application by citing that women were not competent enough to pursue research. But she refused to accept her rejection due to gender bias and stood for herself. After some persuasion, Sir C V Raman finally agreed and granted her conditional admission to IISc. She agreed to all of the conditions, and continued her research work. Determination and belief in her knowledge led her a higher way.


She faced many obstacles throughout her master’s (biochemistry), but graduated with flying colours. After observing her for a year, Sir C V Raman was convinced about her sincerity and discipline. Her work was so outstanding, that Sir C V Raman began accepting women into the program after she left. She left a true hallmark of women. Shortly after completing her masters, she was invited to Cambridge University to work under Dr. Derek Richter in the Frederick G. Hopkins laboratory. Through her research work, she discovered the cellular enzyme cytochrome and earned her PhD under the guidance of Dr. Robin Hill. She submitted her thesis which consisted of only 40 pages, which impressed the review committee immensely. In the year 1939, she returned to Mumbai and continued her research in India.


She was awarded the Rashtrapati Award for her work on the drink 'Neera' (a work suggested by President Dr. Rajendra Prasad) which is an important food for malnourished children and pregnant women. Besides all of her scientific accomplishments. she also wrote many books in Marathi for young students and some papers on consumers' rights.


In the year 1998, she was invited to Delhi for a remarkable ceremony to felicitate her, which was organised by the Indian Council of Medical Research. But she collapsed and died shortly after being honoured; having lived a full life as a scientist, wife, and a mother. We remember scientist Kamala Sohonie as a pioneer in her field and for her ambitious passion towards the pursuit of science. She raised the campaign for women’s equality in India. She didn't just work hard for herself, but also led other women by setting herself up as an example. This was indeed a victory to Kamala Sohonie as she was an inspiration to many women scientists in the coming years.


With thanks - this article was written by Vrinda Nair.

Photo credit - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamala_Sohonie#/media/File:Kamala_Sohonie.jpg

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