Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Kamala Sohonie: First Indian Woman to earn PhD


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Kamala Sohoni

Mains level: NA


Central Idea

  • On June 18, the Google Doodle commemorated Kamala Sohonie on her 112th birth anniversary.
  • Kamala Sohonie, the first Indian woman to earn a PhD in a scientific discipline, made significant contributions in the field of nutrition and fought against malnutrition among tribal children.
  • Despite facing gender bias, including from Nobel laureate CV Raman, Sohonie left a lasting impact on Indian science.

Who was Kamala Sohonie?

  • Kamala Sohonie (nee Bhagvat) was born on June 18, 1911, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
  • Her father and uncle were chemists who had studied at the Tata Institute of Sciences (now IISc, Bengaluru).
  • Sohonie graduated in 1933 with a BSc degree in Chemistry and Physics from Bombay University, topping the merit list.

Encounter with CV Raman

  • Sohonie faced rejection from CV Raman when she applied for an MSc degree at IISc.
  • Determined, she confronted Raman and challenged him to allow her admission.
  • Raman reluctantly agreed but imposed several conditions, including probation and restrictions on her status as a student.

Academic Achievements and Work

  • Sohonie completed her course with distinction and secured admission to Cambridge University, where she completed her PhD in just 14 months.
  • Her research focused on potatoes, leading to the discovery of the enzyme ‘Cytochrome C’ and its role in cellular respiration.
  • Returning to India, Sohonie served as the head of the Department of Biochemistry at Lady Hardinge College, New Delhi.
  • She worked at the Nutrition Research Lab, Coonoor, and the Royal Institute of Science in Mumbai, studying various food items to identify their nutrients.

Contribution to Nutrition and Social Impact

  • Sohonie’s notable work revolved around ‘neera,’ a palm extract drink recommended by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President.
  • She demonstrated that ‘neera’ was a rich source of Vitamin C and other nutrients, making it beneficial for the health of malnourished tribal children and pregnant women.
  • Sohonie also collaborated with the Aarey Milk project to improve milk quality.
  • Beyond her scientific endeavors, she played a vital role as a founding member of the Consumer Guidance Society.

Personal Life and Legacy

  • In 1947, Sohonie married MV Sohonie, an actuary, and the couple resided in Mumbai.
  • Kamala Sohonie’s accomplishments broke barriers and inspired future generations of women in science.
  • Her resilience against gender bias and remarkable contributions to nutrition and consumer protection remain an enduring legacy.

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