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This article is a part of the #IndianWomenInHistory campaign for Women’s History Month to remember the untold legacies of women who shaped India, especially India’s various feminist movements. One Indian woman is profiled each day for the whole of March 2019.


B. Vijayalakshmi as a scientist is known to few. Yet, she is perhaps one of the most brilliant minds to have existed in the Indian Physics community. Although her life was cut short by cancer, never once did it waver her spirit from scientific curiosity and work, of politics and social awareness. Here’s the story of the academic braveheart undeterred by cancer who contributed eleven papers to credit in international journals by the age of thirty-three. Her contribution to the field of Physics has been acknowledged and noted in the book, Lilavati’s Daughters published by the Indian Academy of Sciences.

Life And Education

Vijayalakshmi, or as she was lovingly called, Viji, joined the Department of Theoretical Physics in 1974 after obtaining her Masters from Seethalakshmi Ramaswami College, Tiruchirapalli. She completed her PhD in 1982 from Madras University.

She met and married T. Jayaram who turned out to be a crucial and perhaps the most important person in her life. He supported her academic pursuits and also introduced her to the world of politics and political awareness. With the marriage Viji also acquired concerned parents-in-law who were to assist her diligently in the years of difficult health that were to follow.

Academic work And Scholarship

She was deeply involved in the studies of relativistic equations of higher spin in external electromagnetic and gravitational fields. She searched for suitable ways in which interacting higher spin theories could be constructed. In 1978 she started her work on characterizing a spinning particle in non-relativistic quantum mechanics. This was a novel idea of the interplay of geometry and topology. This also produced an interesting dual relation between massless particles and the monopoles of electromagnetic theory. This work was published, and this particular contribution laid the foundation for many interesting developments. At this time, she was undergoing extensive chemotherapy and treatment that rendered her nearly immobile without a wheelchair to accompany her.

She stood in vehement opposition against the administration and academic set-up and was very vocal about her displeasure. She was faced with considerable dissent from her peers and department-mates.

She gave a talk at the biannual High Energy Physics Symposium of the Department of Atomic Energy held at the University in Kochi in 1980 which was well received. Continuing research for the next couple of years she wrote five publications on the relativistic wave equations in external fields and completed her requirements for PhD. The study of higher spin wave equations and their interactions were important issues which had engaged the minds of physicists and mathematicians.

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In her thesis work, she identified large classes of relativistic equations which were not equivalent to already known equations describing single mass and spin. This study in which she obtained interesting new results involved many conceptually difficult issues in group theory, which she mastered successfully. she visited the Centre for Theoretical Studies at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (now the Centre for High Energy Physics). She wrote two papers on issues in supersymmetric field theories.

Political Activism And Participation

Jayaram played a very influential role in the shaping of Vijayalakshmi’s exposure and subsequent involvement in Politics. She began to develop an understanding of Politics in the country and began investing time into following it closely. She aligned herself with the Communist Left. She was a subtle but evident atheist.

She tackled a lot of the problems that Graduate students had to face in the university ranging from regular monthly fellowships and the ability to use their contingency or travel grants for their research.

She was an active participating member of the Associations of Research Scholars of the Madras University where she tackled a lot of the problems that Graduate students had to face in the university ranging from regular monthly fellowships and the ability to use their contingency or travel grants for their research. Laboratory facilities were poor, and students’ contingency grants were often used to augment the collections of departmental libraries. The administration and academic set-up were feudalistic. She stood in vehement opposition and was very vocal about her displeasure. She was faced with considerable dissent from her peers and department-mates.

Legacy

She had been diagnosed with widespread cancer of the stomach and the abdominal region while she was still acquiring her PhD. She finally succumbed to cancer and the scientific community mourned a heavy loss on the 12th of May, 1985.

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She was a brilliant mind and a warrior through and through. Her passion and determination to contribute to the community prior to her death will reverberate in the minds of her friends and associates. Doordardhan paid homage to this young mind with a documentary on her life titled, “Vijayalakshmi: The Story of a Young Woman with Cancer.

References

1 Godbole, Rohini, and Ram Ramaswamy – Lilavati’s Daughters
2.The Women Scientists of India
3. Arts And Culture

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