On June 18th, the Google Doodle paid tribute to scientist Kamala Sohonie on her 112th birth anniversary. Kamala Sohonie holds the distinction of being the first Indian woman to achieve a Ph.D. degree in a scientific field. Her pioneering work on Neera, a palm extract with the potential to combat malnutrition among children from tribal communities in India, earned her the prestigious Rashtrapati Award.
Sohonie’s journey was filled with challenges, particularly in overcoming gender biases prevalent within the scientific community. She faced obstacles, including resistance from Nobel laureate CV Raman, as she pursued her scientific ambitions. Nonetheless, her determination and remarkable contributions to the field of science have left an enduring legacy. The Google Doodle serves as a tribute to her groundbreaking achievements and celebrates her invaluable role as a trailblazing female scientist.
About Kamala Sohonie
- Born on June 18, 1911, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Kamala Sohonie embarked on her remarkable scientific journey.
- After completing her Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in Chemistry (principal) and Physics (subsidiary) from Bombay University in 1933, where she excelled and topped the merit list, she set her sights on pursuing a Master of Science (MSc) degree.
- Sohonie applied to the prestigious Tata Institute of Sciences, which is now known as the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru. At that time, the institute was headed by the renowned scientist CV Raman.
Run-in with CV Raman
Despite facing gender bias and outright rejection from CV Raman, Kamala Sohonie remained determined and resilient. Undeterred by his initial dismissal of her application to the Tata Institute of Sciences, she traveled all the way to Bengaluru to confront him directly.
- In a bold challenge, Kamala asserted that she would excel in her studies and complete the course with distinction.
- Eventually, Raman relented and allowed her to join the institute but imposed several conditions.
- These conditions included her not being recognized as a regular student, her work being subject to Raman’s approval, a prolonged probationary period, and being cautioned against “distracting” her male peers.
- Despite these obstacles and the prevalent bias against women at the time, Kamala Sohonie excelled in her studies and achieved remarkable success.
- She went on to secure admission to Cambridge University in England in 1936.
- This incident had a profound impact on Raman, leading him to change his opinion about women’s capabilities. Subsequently, he began admitting a few female students every year from that point onward.
Her Work at Cambridge
- After gaining admission to Cambridge University, Kamala Sohonie displayed her exceptional academic prowess.
- Within a remarkable span of 14 months, she completed her Ph.D., presenting a concise thesis consisting of just 40 pages.
- During her time at Cambridge, her research focused on potatoes, leading to her discovery of the enzyme ‘Cytochrome C.’ This protein, found in the mitochondria, plays a crucial role in cellular respiration.
In 1939, following her successful academic journey abroad, Kamala Sohonie returned to India with a strong sense of purpose and a desire to contribute to her country. She dedicated herself to serving India, leveraging her scientific expertise for the betterment of her fellow citizens.
Return to India
- Upon her return to India, Kamala Sohonie embarked on a distinguished career in the field of biochemistry.
- She assumed the position of head of the Department of Biochemistry at Lady Hardinge College in New Delhi, where she imparted knowledge and inspired young minds.
- Later, she served as the Assistant Director of the Nutrition Research Lab in Coonoor, where she conducted research aimed at identifying the nutritional composition of various food items.
- Sohonie’s quest for scientific knowledge and her dedication to advancing nutrition led her to join the esteemed Royal Institute of Science in Mumbai where she became the first female director.
- At the institute, she conducted extensive studies to determine the specific nutrients present in different food items.
Her work played a crucial role in understanding the nutritional value of various foods, contributing to efforts aimed at improving the health and well-being of the population.
Upon the suggestion of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, Kamala Sohonie focused her research on ‘neera,’ a drink derived from palm extract.
- Her studies revealed that neera was not only rich in Vitamin C but also contained other essential vitamins.
- Additionally, she discovered that neera contained sulfhydryl compounds that helped protect the vitamins during storage.
- Recognizing the potential of neera as an affordable and nutritious supplement, especially for underprivileged tribal communities, Sohonie took it upon herself to popularize this drink.
- By introducing neera into the diets of malnourished children and pregnant women from these communities, she witnessed significant improvements in their health.
Her efforts in promoting neera as a dietary intervention played a vital role in addressing malnutrition among the tribal population. Through her research and advocacy, Kamala Sohonie contributed to enhancing the well-being and nutrition of marginalized communities.
Other Notable Achievements
- In addition to her academic pursuits, Kamala Sohonie collaborated with the Aarey Milk project administration to enhance the quality of milk production. Her expertise and efforts contributed to improving the overall standards of milk in the project.
- Developed a protocol that prevented the curdling of milk.
- Founded the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI), the earliest consumer protection organization in India.
- Wrote a number of books for young students on science and nutrition.
- Received the Rashtrapati Award, India’s highest civilian award, for her work on the drink neera.
She retired from the Royal Institute of Science in 1978 but continued to work as a consultant and writer. She died in Mumbai in 1998. Kamala Sohonie was a remarkable woman who made significant contributions to science, education, and consumer protection. She was a trailblazer for women in science and an inspiration to all who knew her.
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Kamala Sohonie – FAQs
For which drink Kamala Sohonie was honored with the Rashtrapati Award?
Kamala Sohonie was awarded the Rashtrapati Award for her work on the drink neera, which is a sap extracted from the inflorescence of various species of toddy palms. She found significant quantities of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and iron in the drink, and that these elements can survive the concentration of Neera into palm jaggery and molasses.
Which Indian scientist denied Kamala Sohonie admission?
Indian scientist C.V. Raman denied Kamala Sohonie admission to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in 1933. Raman, who was the director of IISc at the time, believed that women were not capable of pursuing research. Sohonie was a top student at Bombay University and had topped her class in chemistry and physics. She was also the first woman to be admitted to IISc. However, Raman refused to admit her, saying that women were not “mentally equipped” for research.