Limited resources, limitless discoveries | by Trailblazing Ila (इला) | Dec, 2021

Struggles of Prof. Asima Chatterjee to continue her research

Trailblazing Ila (इला)
image credit: @google image

Post-independence was difficult time for science in India, Dr struggled to continue her research. Her research eventually contributed to development of anti-epileptic, anti-convulsive, and chemotherapy drugs.

Asima Chatterjee was the first woman to be awarded a Doctor of Science by an Indian University — in 1944, by the University of Calcutta. She had graduated with Honors in Chemistry in 1936. She went on to do her post doctorate from University of Wisconsin, Madison and Caltech.

She returned to India and joined University of Calcutta as researcher in 1950s.

These were very difficult times for science in India, the funding was meagre, research and development infrastructure was nascent stage, institutions like Department of Biotechnology under the Government and CSIR were yet to come. Most universities were ill equipped.

Dr Chatterjee had to spend her personal money on sending samples for analysis abroad.

Since laboratory didn’t have necessary solvents for plant material extraction. She would usually borrow from BC Guha’s (the father of modern biochemistry in India) laboratory.

Her laboratory had no advanced spectroscopy machineries to analyse the compounds. So, Asima Chatterjee and her students relied on old instruments for purifying the minuscule amounts of compounds from the plants. Or, sometimes relies on other laboratories such as at Bose Institute or far-off laboratory at Jadavpur University.

She even struggled to pay salaries to her students. However, Asima Chatterjee was dedicated and kept her students motivated.

Asima with her family, image credits: google images

Dr. Chatterjee successfully developed the anti-epileptic drug, Ayush-56 and anti-malarial drug.

Her work on alkaloid derived from Madagascar periwinkle contributed to the development of drugs used in chemotherapy.

She published more than 400 papers in national and international journals during her 40-year career.

Dr. Chatterjee won several prestigious awards such as the S S Bhatnagar award, the C V Raman award, and the P C Ray award; and is the recipient of the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award.


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