In 2014, as India successfully launched the Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Mangalyaan, a photograph of scientists celebrating at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) in Bengaluru went viral on the internet. Instead of the familiar sight of men cheering, it showed women in saris congratulating one another. For the first time in their lives, many Indians woke up to the fact that their nation’s space programme is steered as much by women as by men.

Illustration of astrophysicist Prajval Shastri
Illustration of astrophysicist Prajval Shastri (Illustrations by Upasana Agarwal)

Earlier this year, as Chandrayaan-2 was about to take off for the moon, project director M. Vanitha and mission director Ritu Karidhal, the two women at its helm, were much mentioned in the news. However, there’s still a long way to go before Indian women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) become visible to people, especially to schoolgoing children, for whom they could be fresh role models.

31 Fantastic Adventures In Science: By Nandita Jayaraj and Aashima Freidog, Puffin Books, 136 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>399.
31 Fantastic Adventures In Science: By Nandita Jayaraj and Aashima Freidog, Puffin Books, 136 pages, 399.

It’s laudable, therefore, that a new title from Puffin Books, 31 Fantastic Adventures In Science, aspires to shine a light on Indian women in science. Lucidly told by Nandita Jayaraj and Aashima Freidog, with charming illustrations by Upasana Agarwal, this is a thoughtfully curated volume. From relatively well-known fields such as neuroscience to the somewhat obscure area of paleobiology, it covers diverse ground. The anecdotes associated with the experts are entertaining too. We learn about the maths camp that made number theorist Kaneenika Sinha fall in love with the subject as a child, about cell biologist Richa Rikhy’s obsession with making art with fruit flies, and chiropterologist Bhargavi Srinivasulu’s fascination with fruit-eating bats.

Illustration of computational biologist Lipi Thukral
Illustration of computational biologist Lipi Thukral (Illustrations by Upasana Agarwal)

These women, along with their colleagues, should give readers, young and old, much to mull over. The next time you come across a little girl (or a boy) curious about the smallest particles in the universe, you could direct them to the story of particle physicist Indumathi D., and her study of neutrinos.

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