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The Science Museum of the University of Navarra presents the biography of botanist Janaki Ammal

A new video in the "Women in Science" series recognizes the work of this scientist who worked on the biology of sugarcane, eggplant and magnolia.

12 | 01 | 2022

The Science Museum of the University of Navarra has produced a new video of the series "Women in Science", an initiative that aims to value the professional degree program of some scientists unknown to the general public, but with interesting contributions to science. This time the protagonist is the botanist Janaki Ammal.

Janaki Ammal was born in 1897 in the state of Kerala (India) in the bosom of a large family - she was the tenth of thirteen children - and in a social context in which girls did not usually go to school. However, thanks to her father - a judge, a cultured man and interested in natural sciences - she managed to study and become passionate about science.

Ammal studied Botany at the University of Madras (India) and when he finished his programs of study he traveled to the United States where he did his doctorate in Science at the University of Michigan. His research field was the Genetics of plants.  

Back in India, she became a university professor and, as an expert in cytogenetics, did research in sugarcane biology. Her good work led her to identify hybrid varieties that could thrive in the climatic conditions of her country. This was an important finding in a context where many of the sugarcane workers were Indian nationals who migrated to other colonies to develop the work. As a result of her work she was hired to work at the Indian Academy of Science.

"Janaki Eggplant" -as she was known among her colleagues for some works on this vegetable- traveled to London where she spent 15 years working. In 1945, together with Cyril Dean Darlington, she published the prestigious work "The Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants". In London he worked at the Royal Horticulture Society and focused his programs of study on the Magnolia. The gardens of this institution still preserve a specimen that she planted.

Janaki Ammal, passion for the environment

In 1947 India gained independence from the British Empire and in 1951 Janaki returned to his native country at the request of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who offered him to restructure the Botanical Survey of India. His passion for the environment led him to travel to the most remote areas of the country to increase his knowledge in Botany, and to get involved in numerous protests to try to stop the construction of a dam on the Kunthipuzha River.

Janaki Ammal died in 1984. A few years earlier she was awarded the award Padma Shri, one of India's highest honors. The Indian Ministry of Forests and Environment set up a award Taxonomy in her name.

"Women in Science" is an initiative of the Science Museum of the University of Navarra -funded by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) / Ministry of Science and Innovation-that counts with the partnership of the group Women for Science and Technology of the University of Navarra. This informative project is part of the Science Museum's STEM strategy to make the teaching of subjects related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics more attractive, especially among girls and young women.