Here are two facts that will make you beam with optimism: 1. United Nations data shows that India tops world rankings in producing female graduates in STEM at 43%.
2. The latest All-India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report shows a narrowing in India’s gender gap in the past few years. There is a better yardstick that showcases India's progress in offering better opportunities for women in science. Today, despite facing many roadblocks, women in India are making significant contributions to the field of science, technology, math, and engineering. From winning the Nobel Prize to heading important projects at ISRO, women scientists are etching their names in history.
We shine some light on some Indian (and, Indian-origin) women who have carved out their own space in the field of STEM.
Dr. Chandrima Shaha
A biologist and professor at the National Institute of Immunology, she became the first woman to head the prestigious Indian National Science Academy (INSA) in 2020. INSA was established in January 1935, with the aim to promote scientific knowledge for the benefit of humanity and the nation. Since its establishment, this is the first time that the academy has had a woman president. Dr. Shaha specialises in cell biology and has conducted extensive research about the ‘Leishmania’ parasite which causes Kala Azar (black fever). She studied the precise mechanisms of cell death and the role that signalling pathways play in regulating cell death, leading to developments in cancer drugs. She has received awards like the Shakuntala Amirchand Award of ICMR (1992), and the Special Award for 50th Anniversary of DNA Double Helix Discovery (2003).
“I think diversity in science is very important—both men and women need to participate in research. Women, by nature, are more sincere and particular about things. They must participate in a larger way towards the country’s scientific endeavour,” Dr. Chandrima Shaha - President, Indian National Science Academy, in an interview with The Hindu.
Dr. Swati Mohan
She is an Indian-American aerospace engineer, who played an important role in the successful landing of NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars. As the person incharge of guidance and controls operations, she was the ‘eyes and ears’ of the sophisticated spacecraft. She was pivotal in manipulating the Perseverance rover through a tricky plunge into Mars’ atmosphere. Dr. Mohan was the first to confirm the rover’s successful touchdown on the Martian surface on 18th February 2021.
A Senior Scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), she played a key role in realising the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), the first mission to reach Mars in its first attempt. Alumni of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, outer space fascinated her since childhood. She has held the position of Operations Director for many prestigious missions in ISRO. As the Project Manager and Deputy Operations Director for MOM, she was responsible for critical operations related to the orbiter leaving earth and capturing Mars orbit. Karidhal has received many awards including, the Young Scientist Award in 2007 by Shri Abdul Kalam, the ISRO Team Award for MOM in 2015, the Women Achievers in Aerospace, 2017 by SIATI(Society of Indian Aerospace Technologies & Industries (SIATI), etc. She also played an important role in Chandrayaan-2, ISRO’s first moon landing mission.