Asima Chatterjee (née Mookerjee) was born on 23 September 1917 in Bengal. She was an Indian organic chemist and an astounding scientist noted for her work in the fields of organic chemistry and phytomedicine. Her most notable work includes research on vinca alkaloids, the development of anti-epileptic drugs, and the development of anti-malarial drugs.
Asima Chatterjee was the eldest of the two children of a medical doctor Indra Narayan Mukherjee and his wife, Kamala Devi. She grew up in Calcutta in a middle-class family. Her father was very interested in botany and Chatterjee shared in his interest. She graduated with honours in chemistry from the Scottish Church College of the University of Calcutta in 1936. Asima Chatterjee received a master’s degree (1938) and a doctoral degree (1944) in organic chemistry from the University of Calcutta. She was the first Indian woman to earn a doctorate in science. Her doctoral research focused on the chemistry of plant products and synthetic organic chemistry.
She joined the Lady Brabourne College of the University of Calcutta and founded the department of chemistry there. In the year 1954, Asima Chatterjee joined the University College of Science of the University of Calcutta, as a reader in pure chemistry.
Asima Chatterjee has made many great achievements and contributions to science. She initiated a chemical investigation of alkaloids in Rauwolfia canescens, which is commonly known as the be still tree or devil-pepper. Growing as a bush or small tree. Investigated the chemistry of almost all principal types of indole alkaloids. She carried out synthetic studies on several complex indoles, quinoline and isoquinoline alkaloids. Developed procedures for the preparation of beta-phenylethanolamines in connection with alkaloid synthesis. Introduced the use of periodic acid as a reagent for the detection and location of both terminal and exocyclic double bonds in organic compounds. And has made many such contributions.
Asima Chatterjee received many awards and recognitions in her life. She was a Premchand Roychand Scholar of the University of Calcutta. She was Khaira Professor of Chemistry from the year 1962 to 1982, one of the most prestigious and coveted chairs of the University of Calcutta. In the year 1972, she was appointed as the Honorary Coordinator of the Special Assistance Program to intensify teaching and research in natural product chemistry, sanctioned by the Indian University Grants Commission(UGC). She was elected a Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy in New Delhi. In the year 1961, she received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in chemical science, becoming the first female who received this award. In the year 1975, she was granted the prestigious Padma Bhushan and became the first female scientist to be elected as the General President of the Indian Science Congress Association. She was granted the D. Sc. (honoris causa) degree by several universities.
She was nominated by the President of India as a Member of the Rajya Sabha.
Asima Chatterjee proved to be a great inspiration. She contributed her knowledge for the betterment of society. When women in society were rarely encouraged for their career, she made her name in the field of science and became the first women scientist. She made India proud in the field of organic chemistry.