How Asima Chatterjee Changed Chemistry Forever

Asima Chatterjee was a chemist who has made many significant contributions to the fields of chemistry and phytomedicine. Chatterjee was an interesting character in the history of science and chemistry. She was one of the few women of her time who was active in scientific research. This was a field that was dominated by males. Her story is fascinating and it bears retelling due to the fact that she changed the field of chemistry forever.

Her early life

Asima Chatterjee was born in Kolkata, Bengal in the country of India. She was raised in Calcutta and attended school at the Scottish Church College, a division of the University of Calcutta. She graduated with her degree in chemistry and was distinguished by earning honors in 1936. She continued her education at the University of Calcutta to attain her master’s degree in 1938 in the discipline of organic chemistry. While this was a significant achievement in her life, she was not finished with her schooling. She continued her education and in 1944, she earned her doctoral degree.

Notable mentors

Asima studied under Prof. S.. Bose and Prafulla Chandra Roy. She also spent tie at Caltech and at the University of Wisconsin. She focused her doctoral research in the area of the chemistry of synthetic organic chemistry and the chemistry of plant products.

A role model for Indian women

Asima had achieved more than most of the girls who were her contemporaries in India during the 1950s. This was a time and a place where women were not generally afforded the opportunity to pursue their education to the extent that Chatterjee had. While it was expected that girls would get married and tend to the family, many of them against their wills, she set an amazing example and her story is still relevant today.

Her research and her contributions to science

Chatterjee’s main focus was upon the natural compounds that were produced by chemistry. She was instrumental in creating the alkaloids which are used for chemotherapy, in anti-convulsant medications and in drugs used to treat malaria. Thanks to her research and findings, we now have chemotherapy treatments for cancer, drugs that help in the prevention of malaria and medications that control convulsions.

Other accomplishments

Asima was hired in 1940 at the Lady Brabourne College division of the University of Calcutta. While employed with the institution, she founded the department of chemistry, of which she became the head in 1944. She was appointed a Khaira professorship of Chemistry, which is an honor of prestige, in 1962 and maintained the position through 1982. During her career, she also wrote several books on medicinal plants which are found on the Indian subcontinent. She’s best known for her work n the fields of phytomedicine and organic chemistry. Chatterjee also contributed to the advancement of the stereo-configuration of sargpagine and she also worked with the structure of ajmalicine, coumarins and even more.

She was only the second woman in the history of India to be granted a doctoral degree. The Indian National Science Academy in New Delhi elected her a Fellow in 1960. She was recognized with the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in chemical science in 1961. She received the Padma Bhushan in 1975 and was the first woman to receive this honor. She also became the General President of the Indian Science Congress Association and was also the first lady scientist to occupy this position.

Final thoughts

Asima Chatterjee forever changed the field of chemistry and she made countless contributions to the development of many of the drugs and treatments which are now used in modern pharmaceuticals. She was a pioneer in many aspects of her life. She represented women in the field of scientific and medical research as well as in education and attaining professional success. She crashed through cultural and social barriers to become a significant figure in the world. She set a precedent for the girls and women of India by not submitting to cultural expectations, marrying and tending the house. She followed her passions and as a result, the world benefited from her research and discoveries in the discipline of organic chemistry and beyond. She passed away in 2006, but her legacy will live on through the pages of history.


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