Famous female Mathematicians in India

Vijay GarG *

For ages, stereotypes have associated the field of Mathematics with men. Assumptions have wrongly suggested that women lack the mental capability to perform tough calculations or establish themselves in STEM areas.

Perennially, women have been seen as suited for ‘soft’ jobs like teaching or nursing. These roles, thought to require less mental labor or time commitment, supposedly allow women to balance careers with household or marital duties.

In a traditional society like India, the patriarchal set-up reinforces these prejudices. It has been and continues to be a major factor in people’s lives. However, Indian women have time and again proved their actual worth to the world, dismissing these false claims.

This blog honours major women mathematicians in India. It’s an ode to confident women who, despite all odds, made a place for themselves in this male-dominated world.

1. Shakuntala Devi : A Human Computer

Shakuntala Devi was bom in Bangalore in 1929 and was known as a ‘human computer’ because of her exceptional calculation skills. She travelled across the world showcasing her Mathematical genius and winning international acclaim. In 1977, she calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number at Southern Methodist University. Remarkably, she did this in 50 seconds, outpacing a computer.

In 1980, she multiplied two 13 digit numbers chosen at random by Imperial College London in 28 seconds. This gave her a place in the 1982 Guinness Book of World Records. She included many of her Mathematical tricks in her 1977 book "Figuring: The Joy of Numbers".

In her later years, she authored many books like Puzzles to Puzzle You, and Mathability. She also wrote Super Memory: It Can Be Yours, and supported homosexuality with her book, The World of Homosexuals.

Shakuntala Devi was also an astrologer and had many significant people as her clients. She tried venturing into politics too but couldn’t achieve success there. She died on 21st April, 2013 aged 83 due to multiple health complications and was undoubtedly one of the most prodigious women Mathematicians in India. Never miss real stories from India's women.

2. Neena Gupta: Flagbearer For Women In STEM - Forbes India - One of the Women Mathematicians in India
Source: Forbes India

Neena Gupta is a Professor of Maths and Statistics at Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata. She is known for her work in commutative algebra and affine algebraic geometry. In 2014, the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) awarded her the Young Scientists Award for cracking the Zariski Cancellation Problem.

Then in 2021, she was awarded the Ramanujan Prize for young Mathematicians particularly for her work on the Zariski Cancellation Problem which had remained unsolved for 60 years. She is only the third woman and the fourth Indian to be honoured with the prize. She is truly an inspiration for all young girls aspiring to join the STEM field.

3. Raman Parimala : Solving the “two-body problem”, an interview with Prof Parimala Raman - Isaac Newton Institute One of the Women Mathematicians in India
Source: Isaac Newton Institute

Raman Parimala is an eminent woman Mathematician of India who currently serves as a Professor of Mathematics at Emory University, Georgia. She has significantly contributed to the study of algebra.

For her exemplary work she has been honoured with the Bhatnagar Prize in 1987, an honorary doctorate from the University of Lausanne in 1999, the Srinivasa Ramanujan Birth Centenary Award in 2003 and the TWAS Prize for Mathematics in 2005.

It was for the first time in the history of TWAS awards that the Maths or Physics prize had been won by a woman. In 2020, Union Minister Smriti Irani announced the establishment of chairs in the names of Parimala and 10 other Indian women scientists in institutes across the country.

4. Sujatha Ramdorai : Sujatha Ramdorai is a Professor of Mathematics and an Algebraic number theorist. She is best known for her work on the non-commutative version of the Iwasawa theory, originally developed by the great Japanese Mathematician Kenkichi Iwasawa.

She is part of many prominent international research agencies like the Banff International Research Station and the Indo-French Centre for Promotion of Advanced Research.

Miss Ramdorai was also a member of the National Knowledge Commission from 2007 to 2009. She has been awarded with the ICTP Ramanujan Prize in 2006, the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in 2004, and the Krieger-Nelson Prize in 2020. The Government of India honoured her with the Padma Shri award in 2023 in the field of science and engineering.

5. Dr Mangala Narlikar : Mangala Narlikar was an Indian Mathematician known for her work in real and complex analysis, analytical geometry, number theory, Algebra and Topology. She held a PhD degree in Mathematics from University of Bombay on analytical number theory.

Throughout her life she taught Maths at a number of prominent universities in and outside India including the University of Cambridge and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Pune. She also wrote a number of Mathematical books like Access to Basic Mathematics and many scholarly articles and papers.

6. Vanaja Iyengar : Vanaja Iyengar was an Indian Mathematician and educationist. For most part of her career she taught at the Osmania University and its two affiliated colleges, University College for Women, Koti and Nizam College and was the founder Vice-Chancellor of the Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam, an all women university in Andhra Pradesh.

7. Venkatramani Lakshmibai : V Laxmibai was an Indian Mathematician and Professor Emerita of Mathematics at Northwestern University, Boston. She had done her PhD from TIFR, Pune.

Her areas of specialization were algebraic geometry, algebraic groups and representation theory along with the study of Flag varieties and Schubert varieties. She was selected as one of the initial fellows of the American Mathematical Society in 2012.

8. Ajit Iqbal Singh: Ajit Iqbal Singh is one of the women mathematicians in India with specialization in functional analysis and harmonic analysis. Till 2008, she worked as a Professor of Mathematics at Delhi University and since then has been serving as a Visiting Professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi.

She is also a fellow at the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), the highest body of scientists and technologists in India and also at the National Academy of Sciences, Allahabad.

9. TA Sarasvati Amma : TA Amma was a Maths scholar and significantly contributed to the field of Mathematical history through her book Geometry of Ancient and Medieval India. Her book has been praised by many international scholars like Michio Yano and David Mumford and tries to prove that ancient India did have mathematical temper and was rich in geometric representations of algebraic results.

10. Bhama Srinivasan : Bhama Srinivasan is an Indian woman Mathematician who is known for her work in representation theory of finite groups. She serves as Professor Emerita at University of Illinois, Chicago. Along with Paul Fong she has also worked on modular representation theory and Deligne-Lusztig theory.

She became a fellow at the American Mathematical Society in 2012 and at the Association for Women in Mathematics in 2017. She was honoured with the Noether Lecture in 1990 for her work.

These incredible women Mathematicians in India have repeatedly shown that gender cannot define boundaries and everyone regardless of their gender is free to dream and achieve success if they have the determination, zeal and the right attitude towards life.

Their accomplishments can help innumerable girls to break free of these age-old orthodox ideas and redefine gender identities, thereby carving out a new path for Indian women in STEM.

* Vijay GarG wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 29 May 2024

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