Rajeshwari Chatterjee

A #pioneer in #microwave engineering labs in India, making significant contributions to the field of microwave and #antennae engineering.

Rajeshwari Chatterjee, Sci-Illustrate Stories

Featuring artwork by Arghya Manna & words by Dr. Roopali Chaudhary, Sci-Illustrate Stories. Set in motion by Dr. Radhika Patnala.

Rajeshwari Chatterjee is one of the pioneering women who helped pave the way for women scientists and engineers in India. She is the first woman engineer from Karnataka, with significant contributions to the field of microwave and antennae engineering.

Rajeshwari was born during the British Raj to an upper class family which included her social activist grandmother, Smt Kamalamma Dasappa; a force to reckon with in her own time. Though widowed at the young age of 20, Kamalamma pursued higher education graduating with a BA and spent the rest of her life promoting women’s education at a time when it was discouraged due to marriage requirements. Smt Kamalamma Dasappa started an experimental school in Mahila Seva Samaj for widows, deserted wives and young girls. This school provided an accelerated program to finish secondary education by the age of 14. Rajeshwari’s early education was from this school, and encouraged by her grandmother, she pursued postsecondary education completing her BSc (c. 1939) and MSc (c1942) in Mathematics.

In 1943, Rajeshwari applied to the Indian Institute for Science (IISc) to work under CV Raman but was denied due to lack of degrees in Physics. This was not to deter the determined Rajeshwari, and after extensive debate about the female candidate, she was able to join as a research student in Communication Engineering under SP Chakravarty at the Department of Electrical Technology.

In the early 1940s, India had an interim government in Delhi as the British prepared to leave the country. During this time, a scientific committee consisting of many of India’s best-known scientists prompted this government to start a scholarship program for talented Indian students in science and engineering to research abroad in USA, Britain and Canada. Rajeshwari won this prestigious scholarship in 1946; and in 1947, a month before independence, Rajeshwari boarded a ship to the US as an unmarried woman in her 20s with the full support of her family. The scholarship required her to serve the newly formed India for at least 3 years upon the completion of her studies.

Joining University of Michigan in 1947, Rajeshwari earned a Masters from the Department of Electrical Engineering, followed by a 8-month practical training in Division of Radio Frequency Measurements at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington DC. In c.1953, Rajeshwari completed her PhD under Prof. William G. Dow.

Upon returning to India in 1953, she was employed by IISc joining the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering as a faculty member. Along with her husband, Sisir Kumar Chatterjee, she helped setup India’s first microwave engineering research labs, and was the first to teach the subject in India. In her 30 year career, Rajeshwari not only pioneered microwave engineering research in India, she also has 100 research papers, wrote 6 textbooks, and mentored 20 PhD students. When she retired in 1981, she had taught courses on electromagnetic theory, electron tube circuits, microwave technology and radio engineering. Rajeshwari preferred to call herself an “engineering-scientist” as she did not work in industry as most engineers do, but her research provided major contributions to the antennae for aircrafts and spacecrafts.

Rajeshwari was strict but determined. She fought for her position in a male dominated field, and was highly respected for her analytical skills, and her ability to make difficult concepts accessible to students. The microwave research lab always had more female students than other labs, perhaps because the Chatterjee duo understood the need to promote and provide space for them. They were known to be supportive to their students in both educational and personal endeavours, and were hugely supportive of one another.

After retiring, Rajeshwari worked with the Indian Association for Women’s Studies to help women who struggled to come up in life. Rajeshwari was aware of her privilege of belonging to an upper class, supportive and understanding family, and wanted to provide similar support to women who were not so lucky. She worked on addressing many issues on caste segregation, gender discrimination and financial instability. Rajeshwari knew the importance of mentorship, which she provided to many during and after her formal career.

Sources:

  1. https://www.thebetterindia.com/109876/things-to-know-rajeshwari-chatterjee-first-woman-achiever-posthumous-award/
  2. https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/On-her-own-terms/article15764097.ece
  3. https://ethw.org/Rajeshwari_Chatterjee
  4. https://feminisminindia.com/2017/09/13/rajeshwari-chatterjee-essay/
  5. https://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2002/04/18/stories/2002041800540200.htm
  6. https://connect.iisc.ac.in/2017/05/remembering-rajeswari-chatterjee-iiscs-first-woman-engineer/
  7. https://www.ias.ac.in/public/Resources/Initiatives/Women_in_Science/Contributors/rajeshwarichatt.pdf

About the author:

DR. ROOPALI CHAUDHARY

Content Editor Women in Science, Sci-Illustrate Stories

Dr. Chaudhary has an MSc in Genetics (University of Waterloo, Canada) studying Drosophilaembryogenesis (fruit fly embryo development), and a PhD in Cellular & Molecular Biology (McMaster University, Canada) studying intestinal inflammation in a novel mouse model. She furthered her career in a 3-year post-doctoral fellowship studying the immune memory in food allergies (McMaster University, Canada). Dr. Chaudhary’s continually strives to make science accessible, be with through her edible science art (custom cakes), teaching or her outreach activities.

About the artist:

ARGHYA MANNA
Contributing Artist, Sci-Illustrate stories

Arghya Manna is a comics artist and illustrator. He began his biomedical career as a doctoral student at Bose Institute, India working on Tumor Cell migration in a 3D environment, but soon left wet lab research and his doctoral studies to find refuge in art. Finding himself becoming increasingly passionate about visual science communication through comics, he now is an History of Science enthusiast and showcases his work through his blog “Drawing History of Science”.

Arghya, through his artwork, aspires to engage the readers of history and science with the amalgamation of images and texts.

About this series:

These are stories I wish I knew when I was growing up.

There are the stories of persistence, ingenuity, calibre, scientific achievement against all odds.

These are the stories of Indian women who were the pioneers of Science in India.

These are stories of lives that must be remembered and cherished.

Sci-Illustrate stories is proud to add a new chapter in our WIS series where through the words of the sci-illustrate team, complimented by the artwork of a very talented Indian artist Arghya Manna, we will be revisiting and highlighting the lives of some incredible Indian women in science.

— Dr. Radhika Patnala, Series Director

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Sci-Illustrate

Sci-Illustrate

Passion for science and art coming together in beautiful harmony to tell stories that inspire us