Asima Chatterjee’s life-saving work into treating cancer is marked in today’s Google Doodle

India’s Asima Chatterjee has been honoured with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 100th birthday today. 

Asima Chatterjee's life-saving work into treating cancer is marked in today's Google Doodle

The Google logo has been transformed to show the Indian chemist Asima Chatterjee’s face in the centre of hexagons and leaves to signify Chatterjee’s breakthrough work with chemistry and plants. 

She was instrumental in the development of medicinal chemistry, namely drugs to treat epilepsy, malaria, and compounds that were later used in chemotherapy and morphine. This means if you’ve ever been in severe pain or known someone with cancer, Chatterjee’s work paved the way for treatment.

Asima Chatterjee

Born in 1917 in Calcutta, Asima Chatterjee was the first woman to be awarded a Doctor of Science, in 1944, by the University of Calcutta. She later became the first female General President of the Indian Science Congress – two achievements that were “almost unheard of”, according to Google.

 Through her study of native Indian plants and their medicinal properties, Dr. Chatterjee identified compounds known as alkaloids. These are any organic compounds from plants that have a physiological effect on humans, from poisons such as strychnine to drugs like morphine. During her career, she published around 400 papers in journals and edited various

During her career, she published around 400 papers in journals and edited various encyclopaedias and textbooks on the subject including The Treatise on Indian Medicinal Plants published in six volumes in English.

Three years after graduating with her doctorate in Calcutta, Dr. Chatterjee went to the US to study at the University of Wisconsin and it was during this time, and following her return to India in 1950, that her work began focusing on alkaloids with fervent interest.

In particular, vinca alkaloids. These alkaloids come from the Madagascar periwinkle plant and are used today in chemotherapy treatment because they help slow down or stall how quickly cancer cells multiply.

“A firm believer in collaboration and teaching, Dr. Chatterjee also founded and led the department of chemistry at Lady Brabourne College. She started a research institute and mentored many of India’s rising chemistry scholars,” Google says in its Doodle description. “Today’s Doodle pays homage to this trailblazer and her great accomplishments in the name of science.”

Google has additionally immortalised Dr. Asima Chatterjee’s life and work in its Google Arts & Culture, which shows early photos of Dr Chatterjee alongside her male counterparts.

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