Janaki Ammal, Botanist

janaki_ammal_younger_picture-738x1024Janaki Ammal was a botanist known for her research in sugarcane. She was trained abroad, worked at Kew Gardens, London and returned to independent India at the invitation of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Earlier this year her niece, Geeta Doctor, wrote a magnificent piece about her aunt in the digital ezine, Scroll: http://scroll.in/article/730186/remembering-dr-janaki-ammal-pioneering-botanist-cytogeneticist-and-passionate-gandhian . In October 2016, the Botanical Survey of India, Kolkatta, inaugurated an exhibition on the eminent scientist. ( http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/kolkata-celebrates-botany-legend-janaki-ammal-with-exhibition/article9227048.ece )

Six large blow-ups on her life and her contributions to science, along with several letters presenting anecdotes and highlighting the difficulties the woman scientist had to face during her time, come to the fore at the exhibition.

In one of the letters, dated September 25, 1953, Janaki Ammal wrote to a fellow scientist that the Ministry of dsc06131-768x1024Natural Resources and Scientific Research of the Government of India had accepted her scheme for the reorganisation of the BSI.

Science historians say it was following her memorandum that the BSI was reorganised into four regional centres: Coimbatore (1955), Pune (1955), Shillong (1955) and Dehra Dun (1956), with their headquarters at Calcutta. A number of communications with scientists and officials highlight her struggle to establish herself as a scientist in what was a male-dominated discipline.

The exhibition always provides certain anecdotes, like how she met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on a flight and he persuaded her to come back to India in 1948.

janaki-ammalThe Ladies Finger website too carries a wonderful profile of Janaki Ammal: http://theladiesfinger.com/janaki-ammal/ .

Interestingly enough there is a tiny mention of Janaki Ammal in a tumblr_o6rj9utmhh1src5rlo1_500maginificently illustrated book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers who Changed the World. It has been written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky. ( The other Indian women scientist mentioned in the book is Tessy Thomas who was instrumental in creating the most powerful long-range nuclear missile ever.)

Rachel Ignotofsky Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers who Changed the World Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2016. Hb. pp. 130 Rs 499 

26 Oct 2016

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