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Every Google Doodle that graces the search engine’s homepage includes clues as to the person or event being celebrated, but today’s hints are especially beautiful. Google is honoring Asima Chatterjee, a woman whose plant-focused research had a major impact on modern day cancer treatments.
Head to the site today, and you’ll see a green-tinged illustration of a bespectacled Chatterjee. Her hair is composed of leaves, and she is surrounded by hexagonal structures spelling out Google. If those shapes look like the kinds you remember from your high school organic chemistry class, your memory has served you well.
Chatterjee began studying chemistry in India in the early 1900s, at a time when few women worked in the field. According to the Indian National Science Academy, Chatterjee’s mother was her strongest advocate, supporting her daughter’s entrance to a coed university despite objections from fellow family members. After earning her undergraduate degree in organic chemistry, Chatterjee went on to become the first Indian woman to earn a Doctorate of Science. She picked up many prestigious medals and awards for her papers along the way.
Her most notable contributions to the field came from her interest in natural plants — hence, the leaves in her hair in today’s Doodle. Chatterjee studied the structural components of indigenous Indian plants, looking for ways to use them in medicine. She worked on treatments for malaria and epilepsy, but according to the Google Doodle Blog, her most well-recognized work focused on the Vinca Alkaloids that came from the Madagascar periwinkle plant. These have been used in cancer drugs to fight the spread of cancer cells.
In addition to her own research, Chatterjee also supported female students throughout her career: In 1940, she founded the chemistry department at India’s Lady Brabourne College.
Chatterjee passed away in 2006 at the age of 89. She would have been 100 years old today, September 23. Head to Google’s Arts and Culture site to read more about the trailblazing chemist.
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