Science & Tech

Kamala Sohonie is the first Indian woman to receive a PhD

  • On June 18, the Google Doodle celebrated Kamala Sohonie’s 112th birthday.
  • Kamala Sohonie, the first Indian woman to get a PhD in a scientific subject, made substantial advances to nutrition and fought malnutrition among tribal children.
  • Despite gender bias, especially from Nobel laureate CV Raman, Sohonie made an indelible mark on Indian research.

Who was Kamala Sohonie?

  • Kamala Sohonie (nee Bhagvat) was born in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, on June 18, 1911.
  • Her father and uncle were also chemists who attended Tata Institute of Sciences (now IISc, Bengaluru).
  • Sohonie received a BSc degree in Chemistry and Physics from Bombay University in 1933, topping the merit list.
  • Sohonie’s encounter with CV Raman Sohonie was rejected by CV Raman when she enrolled for an MSc degree at IISc.
  • She faced Raman, challenging him to allow her admission.
  • Raman consented reluctantly but set additional conditions, including probation and restrictions on her student status.

Academic Achievements and Employment

  • Sohonie graduated with honours and was admitted to Cambridge University, where she earned her PhD in just 14 months.
  • Her studies on potatoes led to the identification of the enzyme ‘Cytochrome C’ and its involvement in cellular respiration.
  • Sohonie returned to India and became the head of the Department of Biochemistry at Lady Hardinge College in New Delhi.
  • She studied numerous food items to identify their nutrients at the Nutrition Research Lab in Coonoor and the Royal Institute of Science in Mumbai.

Contribution to Nutrition and Social Impact

  • Sohonie’s major work centred around ‘neera,’ a palm extract drink suggested by India’s first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
  • She showed that ‘neera’ was high in Vitamin C and other nutrients, making it advantageous to the health of impoverished tribal children and pregnant women.
  • Sohonie has worked with the Aarey Milk Initiative to increase the quality of milk.
  • Aside from her scientific endeavours, she was an important founding member of the Consumer Guidance Society.

Personal History and Legacy

  • Sohonie married MV Sohonie, an actuary, in 1947, and the couple lived in Mumbai.
  • Kamala Sohonie’s achievements broke down barriers and inspired future generations of female scientists.
  • Her perseverance in the face of gender bias, as well as her outstanding contributions to nutrition and consumer protection, have left an indelible impression.
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