From undertaking journey to the end of the earth as the first woman scientist from India to breaking taboos to form a start-up on menstrual hygiene, several noted women scientists and young entrepreneurs gathered at fifth India International Science Festival to interact with students.
"When I began working as a geologist in 1970s, I felt like an intruder in a world dominated by men. I was only the third woman geologist among 2,500 male scientists in Geological Survey Of India. Today, 40% of the geologists in India are women. We have come a long way," says Sudipto Sengupta, one of the first Indian women from India to set foot on Antarctica.
Sengupta, a geologist and a trained mountaineer was the first Indian woman selected to be part of the third Indian expedition to Antarctica in 1983 alongwith noted marine biologist and oceanographer Dr Aditi Pant. The expedition was part of India Antarctic program, launched in 1982 which led to India setting up its first Scientific research base station- 'Dakshin Gangotri' nearly 2,000 kms away from south pole in Antarctica.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Women Scientists and entrepreneurs Conclave at the ongoing 5th India International Science Festival in Kolkata, Sengupta says she is elated when she several young women scientists breaking stereotypes and aspiring to be part of polar expeditions. "The gender divide in science is instrinsic, more to do with you as a woman, than you as a scientist," she said.
Recalling the days during the Antarctic Expedition, Sengupta says she was lucky to survive, as three of her team members had died in an accident during the expedition.
"It was traumatic. While your physical strength is what will keep you alive, but its your mental strength thats extremely crucial. As geologists we would break stones, collect our own rock samples but at the same time, keep ourselves out of danger. As women, we have a lot to prove," she reminisced.
Sengupta made her mark with her pioneering geological studies in the Schirmacher Hills of East Antarctica which paved way for further studies in the area. In 1989, she was selected to be part of another Antarctic expedition.
When asked how she sees the growth in field of geology in India, the noted geologist quips in, "It has grown tremendously. At least, people don't confuse it with 'Zoology' or 'Geography' any more."
Several noted women scientists and entrepreneurs from across states participated in the Women Scientists and entrepreneurs Conclave at the IISF. This also included Dr Suman Kapur, from BITS Pilani who is pushing for evidence based used of antibiotics and Anita Gupta, founder of start-up, Menstrupaedia creating awareness about menstruation across schools. Gupta has published a comics book on the subject which has been translated in 16 languages and included in curriculum of many schools.
The four-day India International Science Festival (IISF) was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kolkata on Tuesday. The festival is currently in its fifth year and is centred on the theme RISEN - Research, Innovation and Science Empowering the Nation.