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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Google doodle honours Indian woman for her Chemical Science contributions !

On a hectic Navrathri day, just about the time to retire, saw this Google doodle and I felt missed out since morning ! ~ a doodle celebrating what would have been 100th birthday of an Indian lady ! ~ sad, the Nation (certainly me and at least the Nation Southwards) do not know much about this achiever.

Vinca alkaloids are a set of anti-mitotic and anti-microtubule alkaloid agents originally derived from the periwinkle plant Catharanthus roseus(basionym Vinca rosea) and other vinca plants.

India’s most prestigious science award, the annual Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, was first given in 1958, but it was only in 1960 that its ‘chemical sciences’ category was introduced.  It  just took one year for the prize to go to its first female recipient,  for her achievements in phytomedicine – the study of plant extracts for therapy. It was a long wait, about 14 years, before another woman would be awarded the same prize, and an astounding 48 years before a woman would win it for the ‘chemical sciences’ category again !

The design of the Google Doodle is striking. It’s been transformed into a skeletal formula, a series of hexagons with single and double bond lines between them, commonly used to represent carbon and hydrogen atoms in organic chemistry. The woman  herself is represented as a modest, bespectacled woman with green leaves for hair, a nod to her work in Indian medicinal plants.

It is Asima Chatterjee,  born on September 23, 1917, in Calcutta. She earned her undergraduate degree from Scottish Church College, and later her master’s and doctorate of science from University of Calcutta, all in chemistry.  Organic chemist Asima Chatterjee paved the way for Indian women in science and improved the odds of survival for patients with cancer, epilepsy, and malaria.

She grew up in a relatively comfortable middle-class family in Calcutta, where she was encouraged to pursue an education -- although it's unlikely that anyone expected her to pursue it as far as she did.  Asima  completed a Masters degree in organic chemistry at the University of Calcutta in 1938, and six years later she became the first woman in India to earn a doctorate in science. Around that time, she founded the Department of Chemistry at Lady Brabourne College, a women's college affiliated with the University of Calcutta.

Throughout her long and prolific career, Chatterjee's research focused on chemical compounds produced by plants native to the Indian subcontinent. Her work on a group of chemical compounds from the Madagascar periwinkle plant, called vinca alkaloids, contributed to the development of drugs used in chemotherapy to slow the growth of some types of cancer by preventing cells from dividing. Other research led to an anti-convulsive drug called Ayush-56, which helped treat epilepsy, and several anti-malarial drugs. She published around 400 papers and several volumes on Indian medicinal plants and their chemistry.

According to the Indian Academy of Sciences, Chatterjee “successfully developed anti-epileptic drug, Ayush-56 from Marsilia minuta and the anti-malarial drug from Alstonia scholaris, Swrrtia chirata, Picrorphiza kurroa and Ceasalpinna crista.” Chatterjee was also the first female scientist to be elected as the General President of the Indian Science Congress, in 1975.

Chatterjee died on November 22, 2006. Today marks her  100th birthday.

There’s also another Google Doodle appearing above the search bar today, seen in other parts of the globe,  this one celebrating Saudi Arabia National Day, the anniversary of the country’s unification in 1932.  23rd  of September is celebrated in Saudi Arabia as National Day, commemorating the country’s unification by King Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 1932.  Today’s Doodle showcases the kingdom’s rich cultural heritage through the lens of national dress. The white ‘thobe’ and black ‘abaya’ symbolize everyday Saudi life.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

23rd Sept 2017

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