Prof. Asima Chatterjee
Mrs. Asima Chatterjee (nee’ Mukherjee) was born in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) on September 23, 1917 being elder of two children of late Dr. Indranarayan Mukhrejee and Late Sm. Kamala Devi. She passed her Matriculation Examination in 19232 from Bethune Collegiate School and I.Sc. From Bethune College, Kolkata in 1934. She graduated with honours in Chemistry in 1936 from Scottish Church College, Kolkata. She obtained her M.Sc. Degree in 1938 with Organic Chemistry as special paper from the University College of Science, Culcutta University. She started her research work under the guidance of Dr. Prafulla Kumar Bose, one of the pioneer natural product chemists in India. After receiving Nagarjuna Prize and gold medal in 1940, Premchand Roychand Studentship in 1942, the Mouat Gold Medal she was awarded D.Sc. Degree of the University of Culcutta in 1944 on the merit of her research contributions on Naturally Ocuuring Indole Alkaloids and Coumarins. Incidentally, she was the first lady to obtaine the D.Sc. Degree of any Indian University.
In 1940, she joined Lady Brobourne College, Kolkata as the Founder – Head of the Department of Chemistry. She was appointed honorary lecturer in the Department of chemistry, University of Calcutta in 1944.
In 1945, she was married to Dr. Baradananda Chatterjee, F.N.A., a well-known physical chemist who was an authority on soil science and corrosion.
Dr. Asima Chaterjee left for U.S.A. in 1947 taking her eleven month old daughter with her along with a governess. She worked with Professor L.M. Parks, University of Wisconsin on Naturally Occurring Glycosides (1947-1948) with Professor L. Zechmeister, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, on Carotenoids and Provitamin A (1948-1949). In recognition of this work she was awarded the coveted Watuamull fellowship. Mrs. Chatterjee worked with Professor P. Karrer, NL, University of Zurich, Switzerland (1949-1950) on Biologically Active Indole Alkaliods which became her life long interest. During her stay at the California Institute of Technology she came into close contact with Professor Lintus Pauling, NL. She made her life long association with Professor and Mrs. Pauling.
In 1954 she was appointed Reader in the Department of Chemistry, University of Calcutta. Soon she gained reputation as a teacher of rare distinction and unique research guide. In 1962 she became the Kumar Guruprasad Singh Khaira Professor of Chemistry, a chair she held till her retirement in 1982.
Professor Asima Chatterjee made significant contributions on the chemistry of diverse classes of natural products from Indian medicinal plants, particularly in the fields of indole, isoquinoline, and steroidal alkaloids, terpenoids, polyphenolics and reaction mechanism.
The isolation and structure determination of a novel sedative and antiepileptic drug, marsilin from the water fern, Marsilea quadrifolia (Marsilea minuta) and development of the antimaterial drug, Ayush-64, another combination drug, are the landmarks of alternative herbal medicine without any side effect. She was instrumental for establishing the National Research Institute of Ayurveda for Drug Development, Sector V, Bidhannagar, Kolkata.
Prof. Asima Chattrejee could also create a school of research on natural products related to alkaloids. Her students made significant contributions on natural products in different universities and developed chemistry departments in some research institutes in the country and abroad. She was the Chief Editor of the six-volume series, the Treatise of Indian Medicinal Plants published by CSIR, India. She also edited and revised the six-volume Bharatiya Banousodhi published by Calcutta University.
Among many awards and recognition, she received, particular mention may be made of the following:
Elected Fellow of the India National Science Academy (FNA) in 1960 and subsequently admitted as fellow to all the major academies of India. Recipient of Santiswarup Bhatnagar Award (1961) from CSIR, Indian for her valuable contibution in the field of chemistry of Natural Oproducts. Elected General President of the India Science Congress (1975), the first woman scientist to receive this unique honour. Awarded the title, “Padma Bhusan” by the Govt. Of India (1975). Honoured with Sir C.V. Raman Award (1982) of the Hari Om Ashram Trust by the University Grants Commision apart from many other medals, prizes and prestigious lectureships. Nominated Member of Rajya Sabha (February 1982 – April; 1984 – May 1990) as a scientist – academicial.
She was a great devotee to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda and was closely associated with Ramakrishna Math amd Mission, Belur throughout her life. Late Swami Abhayanandaji Maharaj (popularly know as Bharat Maharaj) and Late Swami Ranganathanandaji Maharaj played a prominent role in her life in providing inspiration and courage.