Katsuko Saruhashi: Japanese nuclear geochemist and pioneering feminist celebrated in today’s Google Doodle
Today’s Google Doodle pays tribute to Katsuko Saruhashi, the Japanese geochemist whose research helped reveal the effects of nuclear fallout from US testing in the Pacific Ocean.
Shown in the doodle with clipboard in hand against a backdrop of waves, Saruhashi has been honoured by Google on what would have been her 98th birthday.
Katsuko Saruhashi: The chemist
Katsuko Saruhashi developed a groundbreaking test for accurately determining carbonic acid substances in water based on temperature, pH level and chlorinity. These measurements would be recorded with the help of “Saruhashi’s Table”, which was an indispensable methodology for oceanographers until the advent of computer analysis.
Following the US Bikini Atoll nuclear tests in 1954, Katsuko Saruhashi examined the spread of radioactive materials in seawater. By 1958, the US had carried out 67 nuclear explosions around the Marshall Islands, tarnishing the area with increasing amounts of radiation. Her research into the contamination caused by these tests eventually helped lead to the banning of above-ground nuclear tests in 1963.
Her research also demonstrated how radionuclides could be used to trace ocean currents. Decades later, her work turned to studying the causes and effects of acid rain.
Katsuko Saruhashi: The feminist
Katsuko Saruhashi was the first woman to be awarded a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Tokyo in 1957. As a pioneer of both women in STEM and feminism, Saruhashi famously said “there are many women who have the ability to become great scientists” and hoped to “see the day when women can contribute to science and technology on an equal footing with men.”
Beyond her studies, Katsuko Saruhashi was the first woman to be named on the Science Council of Japan, as well as being the first woman to earn Japan’s Miyake Prize for geochemistry. As a result of her achievements, Katsuko Saruhashi set up the Saruhashi Prize in 1981 to celebrate female researchers in Japan
Katsuko Saruhashi died of pneumonia in 2007, at the age of 87, at her home in Tokyo.