Women are born educators. With their inherent ability to teach the young, it is no surprise that most teachers and educators in India today are women.

Their presence in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) roles, is the highest today than ever before. The reasons are not too difficult to understand. More women are choosing Science and Engineering for higher education and career. Women are catching up fast with their male counterparts to occupy senior positions in academics and other S.T.E.M. fields

For those who do not know, S.T.E.M. is an inter-disciplinary study which adopts experiential learning from school level. It develops interest in Science and Technology at a very young age. More than 75% of the career opportunities in the coming future will be related to S.T.EM. fields. These fields covers many fast growing industries. For example, according to a Bank of America-Merrill Lynch report, the current annual space market - approximately $350 billion worldwide - will grow to $2.7 trillion by 2045.

To inspire the young generation, it is extremely important to celebrate and cherish the success of women who are contemporary and shining examples of female talent in S.T.E.M. A good number of brilliant Indian women have chosen to walk this less traveled path. Here we profile only some of them.

Dr. Archana Sharma is one of the senior staff physicists at CERN (‘Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire’ in French) Laboratory, Switzerland. This is the European Organisation for Nuclear Research; famously known, among other things, for the discovery of Higgs Boson or the 'God's Particle'. She has been with CERN for almost 30 years. Her area of specialization is gaseous detectors, which find application in various fields like High Energy physics, Astronomy and Space, Medical Imaging and others.

Dr Sharma is a frequent visitor to India, and takes keen interest in the field of education here.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is perhaps the most celebrated among women entrepreneurs from India. She is the Founder Chairperson of Biocon Ltd., India’s leading company in the biotechnology sector. She is definitely one of the most successful women in Science-related professions today. She founded Biocon 40 years ago in the garage of her rented house, and has taken it to almost Rs. 4000 crore turnover today.

She has invested in a strong R&D culture at Biocon, which has led the company to its leadership position in the industry.

Tessy Thomas, Director of the Advanced Systems Laboratory at Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is also popularly called the ‘Missile Woman of India’. She is the first female scientist to head a missile project in India. She has been with DRDO for 30 years. She became Project Director for the Agni-V missile project in 2009. The missile was successfully tested in 2012, earning her well-deserved plaudits.

The work done by these stalwarts is well recognised, and they have numerous awards to their credit. However, today's schoolchildren will probably identify more easily with the younger women achievers in S.T.E.M., such as Nandini Harinath, Neena Gupta, Anuradha Gupta and Vinita Navalkar.

Nandini Harinath has served as Deputy Operations Director on the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) of the Indian Space Research organisation (ISRO). She has worked on 14 missions over a career spanning 20 years!

She is also working as Mission Systems Lead for the NASA-ISRO joint collaboration satellite (called NISAR) to be launched by ISRO in 2020. She is based at the ISRO Satellite Centre, Bengaluru.

Neena Gupta is a young mathematician at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. She has succeeded in solving a mathematical problem which defied a solution for almost 7 decades!

This problem is called the Zariski Cancellation Conjecture. In recognition of her work, Indian National Science Academy (INSA) awarded her the INSA medal for Young Scientists in 2014. Her work has been called ‘one of the best works in Algebraic Geometry in recent years done anywhere’. She has also won the prestigious Ramanujan Prize, and the inaugural Saraswathi Cowsik Medal (2013).

Anuradha Gupta is a post-doctoral fellow in Physics with the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos at the Pennsylvania State University, US. She is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which successfully detected gravitational waves for the first time ever. This fetched the 2017 Nobel prize for its founders.

She is a prolific speaker in English and Hindi, and speaks regularly at many forums for popularising science, especially among village schoolkids by involving them in fun experiments.

Vinita Navalkar is a post doctoral fellow at ISRO's Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad. Her area of interest is developing instruments for space based telescopes and satellites. For her doctoral thesis, she had worked on the development of focusing X-ray optics for faint cosmic sources. Among her other work, she is currently working on the camera that will be a part of India's interplanetary mission to Venus.

These are only a few examples of women in Science and Technology. In coming years, with more initiatives by the government, we can hope to see the numbers improving further. On Women’s Day, let’s pledge to do our own bit to encourage our daughters and sisters for pursuing their chosen vocations without worrying about their families' support!

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