Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 112th birthday of Indian biochemist Dr. Kamala Sohonie. She was the first Indian woman to achieve a Ph.D in a scientific field during a time when Indian women were conspicuously underrepresented in scientific disciplines. By breaking barriers and proving her doubters wrong, Dr. Sohonie not only did pioneering work in her field of biochemistry but helped forge a path for future Indian women to overcome gender bias and pursue their dreams.
Per family historical records, Dr. Sohonie was born in Indore, Madhya Pradesh on this day in 1911 to parents who were respected chemists. Wanting to follow in her father’s and uncle’s footsteps, she studied chemistry and physics at Bombay University and graduated at the top of her class in 1933. She became the first woman to be inducted into the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) but was imposed with stringent conditions during her first year — all because its director doubted the capabilities of women in science.
Dr. Sohonie proved her competence and was granted permission to continue her research. In fact, she impressed the director so much that the IISc began accepting more women into their program. For the next few years, Sohonie studied the various proteins found in legumes and concluded they boosted nutrition in children. In 1936, she published her thesis on this subject and obtained her master’s degree.
One year later, she earned a research scholarship at Cambridge University. Dr. Sohonie discovered Cytochrome C, an enzyme important to energy generation, and found that it was present in all plant cells. In just 14 months, she completed her thesis about this finding and acquired her Ph.D. When she returned to India, Dr. Sohonie continued studying the benefits of certain foods and helped develop an affordable dietary supplement made from palm nectar. This nutritious drink, called Neera, is a good source of Vitamin C and has been proven to improve the health of malnourished children and pregnant women.
Dr. Sohonie was awarded the Rashtrapati Award for her work on Neera. She also became the first female director of the Royal Institute of Science in Bombay.
Happy birthday, Dr. Kamala Sohonie!