Subscribe to FII's Telegram

Science and sports have often stereotypically been male-dominated. Meet Chandrima Shaha: the woman who single-handedly broke each of these stereotypes in both the fields. Dr. Chandrima Shaha, a biologist and professor at the National Institute of Immunology, is all set to become the first woman to head the prestigious Indian National Science Academy (INSA). She was also the vice-captain of West Bengal’s first-ever women’s cricket team and was also the first woman cricket commentator for All India Radio.

Image source: The Print

The Indian National Science Academy (INSA) was established in January 1935. It aimed to promote science in India and harness scientific knowledge to benefit humanity and the nation. Ever since then, the academy has never had a woman president until now. As president-elect of the INSA, she intends for science communication to be tackled “aggressively” and pseudoscience to be combatted when she takes charge as President in January 2020.

Dr. Shaha graduated with a Master’s degree from the University of Calcutta and did her doctoral research in from the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology. She then went on to do a post doctoral from the University of Kansas Medical Centre. Later, she worked at the Population Council, New York City. In 1984, she joined the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi as a scientist.

Ever since then, the academy has never had a woman president until now. As president-elect of the INSA, she intends for science communication to be tackled “aggressively” and pseudoscience to be combatted when she takes charge as President in January 2020.

Shaha who went on to be the Vice President (International) of the Indian National Science Academy (2016-2018) has held several key positions in science academia over the years. She is an elected fellow of the World Academy of Sciences and was the director of the National Institute of Immunology.

She has received numerous awards like the Shakuntala Amirchand Award of ICMR (1992), and the Special Award for 50th Anniversary of DNA Double Helix Discovery (2003) for “significant contributions towards the understanding of Cell Death Processes in different Model Organisms.”

I think diversity in science is very important—both men and women need to participate in research. Women, by nature, are more sincere and particular about things. They must participate in a larger way towards the country’s scientific endeavour,” she said. Before setting her eyes on research and biology, in particular, Shaha was also a cricketer and a commentator for All India Radio, she told The Hindu. Playing cricket taught her the value of teamwork, she added.

Also read: Kamala Sohonie: First Indian Woman To Get A PhD In Science | #IndianWomenInHistory

With about 80 research papers, Shaha specializes in cell biology and has conducted extensive research about the ‘Leishmania’ parasite which causes Kala Azar. Her laboratory has studied the precise mechanisms of cell death and the role that signalling pathways play in regulating cell death. A parasite known as Leishmania, and cancer cells, are model organisms that Shaha uses in her research. Leishmania causes kala-azar (a.k.a black fever or leishmaniasis) is a vectorborne disease that affects the abdomen—understanding how these cells die can help kill/treat the disease.

Cell death is something very fundamental to our bodies. If you can identify the mechanism behind cell death you can also develop drugs to counter various diseases. Cell death pathways have been used very successfully to make cancer drugs,” she told The Hindu.

She has received numerous awards like the Shakuntala Amirchand Award of ICMR (1992), and the Special Award for 50th Anniversary of DNA Double Helix Discovery (2003) for “significant contributions towards the understanding of Cell Death Processes in different Model Organisms.”

The excitement of looking at the core of your life—a cell, was clearly something that inspired me. I used to sit with the microscope for hours, staring at cells. It was that sheer excitement of looking at life that inspired me,” she told The Print.

Also read: How Has Science Aided In The Oppression Of Gender Minorities?

In her younger days, Shaha says, she was completely ignored by her male colleagues who wouldn’t even shake hands with women scientists. Her drive to defy gender bias motivated her to keep going no matter what, and establish herself as a successful scientist. Science, and the future of it, looks optimistic under Dr. Shaha.

References

  1. The Hindu
  2. The Print
  3. YourStory
  4. NewsD
  5. FirstPost

Featured Image Source: Yourstory

Leave a Reply