Field- Particle Physics
Born in the year 1913 in Kolkata, Dr. Bibha Chowdhury was the first woman Particle Physicist in India. And the first woman to have earned a Ph.D. in Physics. Dr. Bibha Chowdhuri, the first woman scientist of TIFR, got her Ph.D. from Manchester under the supervision of Noble laureate Prof. Blackett. A star has been named after her but she remained unacknowledged through her entire life!
She was born into a well-educated family. Her father, Banku Bihari Chowdhuri, was a doctor; her mother, Urmila Devi, was a Brahmo (followed the doctrines of Brahmo Samaj). The teachings of the Brahmo Samaj had a great impact on her .
Physics was and is still considered a male bastion! But it was her strong zeal that despite being the only girl in her class, she successfully completed her Masters’s in Physics in 1936 from the University of Calcutta. She joined the Bose Institute after graduating in 1939 and worked with Debendra Mohan Bose. Together they co-discovered the mesons (sub-atomic particles that are unstable and decay in a few hundredths of a second). They published three consecutive articles in Nature. However, they could not follow up on the meson research because of the unavailability of photographic emulsion plates necessary for experiments during the years the world was facing World War II. Conditions for Dr. Bibha Chowdhury were not only tough ( funding issues for the project) due to the war but also because her mentor did not want to employ women, despite Bibha proving her mettle and publishing in prestigious journals!
After struggling, Dr. Bibha Chowdhuri moved to United Kingdom and joined the University of Manchester to complete her Ph.D. under the guidance of Prof. P.M.S. Blackett, a renowned experimental physicist who eventually went on to win the Nobel Prize for his contributions in Physics wrt cosmic rays but the contributions of Dr. Bibha Chowdhuri are unknown till date !
A local newspaper, The Manchester Herald, carried a report on her titled “Meet India’s New Woman Scientist — She has an eye for cosmic rays”. She was quoted there as saying:
“Women are terrified of physics — that is the trouble. It is a tragedy that we have so few women physicists today. In this age when science, and physics particularly, is more important than ever, women should study atomic power; if they don’t understand how it works, how can they help decide how it should be used?”source: https://medium.com/sci-illustrate-stories/bibha-chowdhuri-c7c48792d2b1
After her return to India, Dr. Bibha Chowdhuri joined Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Bombay in the year 1949. In 1957, she joined the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad that was headed by Prof. Vikram Sarabhai (known as the father of Indian Space Programme). She conducted Kolar Gold Mines experiment and researched on many sub-atomic particles. But due to lack of govt. funding she could not complete many of her dreams and took a voluntary retirement. But till her death in the year 1991, she was active in pursuit of science.
She never married and devoted her entire life to Physics, yet in her lifetime she never received any recognition or awards while her male counterparts were nationally recognized and got better placements!
Dr. Bibha, an unknown star:
The IAU has re-christened the star HD 86081 as Bibha (a yellow-white dwarf star in the constellation Sextans south of the celestial equator) after her. And yet not many know about her even today ! This is how it has been for women, who have always chosen the paths that have not been considered ‘appropriate’ by the so called male-dominated society, even after proving themshelves at every step!
I salute the spirit of DR. Bibha Chowdhuri!
My one-line takeaway: Even if it is late, the legacy lives on and acknowledges the one who never gives up the pursuit to achieve his/her dream despite hurdles that shows up along the way.
PS: I have planned to take up non-fiction this year as my theme for the A2Z challenge, where every day in the month of April ( except Sundays) I will be writing about women in the stream of science and their contributions. This main objective is to draw inspiration and share information about such great lives who did it, despite all difficulties in their life.
I’m participating in #BlogchatterA2Z and hyperlink to https://www.theblogchatter.com