CSIR-NCL Celebrates International Women’s Day

Half-day symposium at CSIR-NCL


CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory (CSIR-NCL), Pune, celebrated the International Women’s Day by organising various activities including a half-day symposium on “Women in Science” on 9 March 2020. 

Dr Vidya S. Gupta, CSIR Emeritus Scientist, spoke on “History of Women’s Day and Women in science profession right from ancient times”. Referring to the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day 2020 “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights” she talked about issues faced by women such as pay parity, different treatment from the colleagues and supervisors resulting in unpleasantness in workplaces, etc. 

She highlighted the background and history behind the International Women’s Day and said that three thousand years back, women were considered as equal to men. Many important positions were held by women. She talked about some of the successful women scientists including Merit-Ptah, earliest female scientist and chief physician; Agamede, a healer in ancient Greece even before the Trojan War; Mery the Jewess who was the most famous alchemist who invented several chemical instruments and recent times scientists like Margaret Cavendish, Maria Sibylla Merian, James Barry (a surgeon, who passed degree as a man because of the restrictions on women at that time), Marie Curie and recently acclaimed Indian women scientists. She concluded her talk with saying “Intellectually, mentally and spiritually women are equivalent to men and women can participate in everything.”

Dr Sharmila Bapat, Scientist, National Center for Cell Sciences talked on “The different shades of cancer metastases”. The mortality in ovarian cancer patients is much higher in comparison with other cancer patients. She talked about the experiments performed in the areas of ovarian cancer research. She explained how the metastatic cascade and cooperative cell migration take place. She also informed about universal programme of Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal (EMT) and Control Cell Media (CCM), which are a set of multiple and dynamic transitional states between the epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes that define stem-like characteristics and migratory capabilities within tumours. These programmes are relevant for cancer metastases besides reflecting on regenerative capabilities. It is likely to be crucial and considered in patient responses for treatment.

Dr Tuli Dey, Assistant Professor, Institute of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology, Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), Pune, presented her talk on the topic “Women in Science: Why so few?” She reminded a Darwinian concept that “the child, the female, and the senile white all had the intellect and the nature of the grown-up Negro”. She said that although women used to have prestigious status in science; the representation at the Nobel prizes has been only 3% as compared with 97% of men. Besides, the participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) studies is less all over the world. 

She briefed about the current scenario of women education overall; in India, it is 65.46% which is way behind the world’s 79.7% and China has 82%. She presented a report on different studies carried out to understand the female representation and participation at STEM studies in different countries. She also spoke on the opportunities and jobs offered to female candidates in R&D labs and universities in the public domain. The percentage is less than 30% in these institutes. But the scenario changes in respect to the universities, appointing about 40% female faculties. 

Dr Gayathri Pananghat, Assistant Professor, IISER, Pune, spoke on the topic “Bacterial Cytoskeleton: Diversity in Structure, Function and Dynamics”. She said people often think that bacteria do not have a cytoskeleton; this is what we have been taught right from the school days. Nowadays, it is quite well known that bacteria do possess cytoskeleton and it functions similar to the eukaryotes. There are actin and tubulin like proteins of the bacterial cytoskeleton which perform a wide variety of functions. There are large varieties of cytoskeleton proteins present in bacteria. Many of these are dependent on ATP or GTP for energy polymerization and de-polymerization to perform various functions like cell division. 

She said that a hybrid approach has been used in her laboratory at IISER to understand bacterial motility. She threw light on the molecular mechanism to explain the structure and dynamics correlation. It helps to arrive at a 3D structure of the molecule and to know how it functions. She talked about a thin and helical bacterium spiroplasma which doesn’t have the cell wall.

Dr Swati Acharya, Assistant Professor, Foreign Language Department, SPPU, presented her views on “Women and Social Sciences”. She said, “Science is a system of thought processes which can be equally applied to social sciences also. It is not only about poetry and not about the subjective interpretation and misinterpretation of the data.” She tried to sensitize the audience to the use of language, purposely manipulated by the media giving an example of a book namely “Men are from Mars Women are from Venus”.

She said objectivity is the crucial founding stone of social sciences. She highlighted a quote by French philosopher: “A woman is not born, she is made a woman with social conditioning, upbringing; so-called cultural values which restrict women from doing whatever she wants.” She shared some of the success stories of women social scientists like Shirin Ebadi, Seyran Ates, Gita Gopinath, WangariMuta Maathai, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Anandibai Joshi, Irawati Karve, etc.

Dr Moneesha Fernandes, Scientist, CSIR-NCL, spoke on “Peptides for cell penetration and the thrombin-binding aptamer”. She talked about the arginine-rich molecular transporters and expression analysis of CPO-pDNA complexes in the skin. She informed the functioning of the cell-penetrating lysine-based dendrimers. She also explained the cytotoxicity and cell permeability.

CSIR-NCL Medical Centre organised a special test camp for thyroid function (T3, T4 and TSH) on 9 March 2020 for women employees free-of-cost in collaboration with Akumentis Pharmaceuticals under the Public Health Initiative programme through Thyrocare. About fifty women employees took the benefit of the test camp.

Contributed by Ganesh Mane and Prabhakar Ingle (pk.ingle@ncl.res.in), Publication and Science Communication Unit, CSIR–National Chemical Laboratory, Pune 411 008.