Field: X-ray crystallography
The first woman from Calcutta University to earn a Ph.D. in Physics in 1956 under the guidance of the legendary scientist Professor Satyendra Nath Bose, Dr. Purnima Sinha was a scientist who showed through her life that women can achieve anything, given the chance and if they possess the talent for it.
She was born into a family that helped her develop her intellectual prowess. Her parents instilled in her a sense of equality at a time when women were considered a burden in the family. Her siblings were also good at studies and chose economics, chemistry & mathematics. But Purnima was smitten by Physics and pursued it with all grit & determination.
Her passion for the subject caught the eye of Professor Satyendra Nath Bose, who had joined Calcutta University as the Khaira Professor of Physics in 1945. Seeing her immense potential, Dr. Bose enrolled her into his team of researchers in 1951. She earned her doctorate in x-ray crystallography of clay minerals. She received her doctorate from the University of Calcutta as a student of the Rajabazar Science College in 1956-7, under the guidance of professor Satyendra Nath Bose. She has the distinction of being the first Bengali woman to receive a doctorate in physics.
The most interesting aspect was when she built her own X-ray machine from the scraps of army equipment of the second world war that was thrown on the footpaths of Calcutta!
“At that time, about ten of us were involved in experimental research at the Khaira laboratory. Each of us used to fabricate his or her own instrument according to individual needs. This was an unwritten rule in our laboratory. We had put together our X-ray equipment from World War II surplus gathered in the lane behind Dr. Bidhan Roy’s house. The rest of the parts were put together at the workshop in our department,” recalls Dr. Purnima Sinha.
Her research was funded by Assam Oil Company (research-industry collaboration in that era was unheard of). Not only did she build it, but she also went on to study different types of clay from all over India. Later on, Dr. Sinha joined the Biophysics Department at Stanford University’s ‘Origin of Life’ project, which had an interface with her work. She compared the X-ray structure of clay with DNA patterns, geometrically, and was fascinated to find a connection.
Not only this, she had immense knowledge in fine arts as well. She was an artist, a Tabla player, and a writer as well.
My one-line takeaway: You don’t have to just do one thing when you can do many things that you think you are capable of, provided you put heart & soul into it.
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. Disclaimer -The information collected is from different sources available online.
The main objective is to draw inspiration and share information about such great lives who did it, despite all difficulties in their life.