Do you remember the time when Nikola Tesla suddenly became so popular? [Bless this Oatmeal comic] Do you remember Rosalind Franklin who is actually responsible for providing photographic evidence about the structure of DNA, and died of cancer and has a two-line mention in the Twelfth-grade textbook?
Closer home, ever heard of G. N. Ramachandran?
Probably not. Sure, you cannot give credit to everyone (and their uncles) for every study published, but we can appreciate the hard work and efforts of certain individuals who have changed and molded the way we live and survive. It was not too long ago that “my brother dropped dead of pneumonia” was a legit excuse to bunk classes.
In this age of scientific renaissance, it does become difficult for a person in science, let alone a non – STEM field individual to keep up with the latest in Scientia. Like, what is the new antibiotic? What is the “it” drug? What are these gravitational waves? Why should I care about virophages? The hell is in my Sriracha sauce?
But here are five scientists who have been highly underrated and deserve more than just textbook space for their contribution to our selfish mankind.
5 Underrated Scientists, You Should Know About
A biochemist may remember him as a part of an enzymatic study in their textbook, but he was much more. So much more. British scientist John Burdon Sanderson Haldane was recognized for contributions to various fields, from research on genetics and population growth to cure for tetanus.
He made valuable contributions to the fields of biology, biochemistry, and genetics; occasionally using himself as a subject in his own experiments! He developed a treatment for tetanus and, from 1939 to 1945, conducted research for the British Navy and Air Force, including studies on the effects of mustard gas on the human body.
An interesting fact is that later in his life, from 1957, he moved to India till his death. Here he became an Indian citizen and converted to Hinduism.
G. N. Ramachandran
Gopalasamudram Narayana Ramachandran, or G.N. Ramachandran, was an Indian physicist who was known for his work that led to his creation of the Ramachandran plot for understanding peptide structure. This means he discovered how proteins are shaped and structured.
Yes, the same molecules which make up our bodies and the same substances which shampoo and cosmetic commercials give wacky names to make us believe they are selling us something new. In 1942, Ramachandran joined the Master’s program in Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore.
He was soon brought into the Physics stream by the head of the Physics Department, Sir C.V. Raman, who was awarded the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the Raman effect.
Ramachandran was a man of many talents. According to his obituary published in the scientific journal Nature, he was interested in classical Indian and Western Music, as well as in the philosophical systems of India and the West. During his brilliant and illustrious academic career, the number of awards, medals, and citations conferred on him are too numerous to be listed.
Professor Chatterjee was an organic chemist, who dealt with the development of anti-cancer, anti-malarial, and anti-epileptic drugs. In 1944, she became the first woman to be named a Doctor of Science by an Indian university. In her long-standing research career, Asima authored volumes of work on medicinal plants of the Indian subcontinent.
The early years for any research scientist are hard – in receiving funding and a push to pursue a study we love, and so was the case with her. But she continued nonetheless, setting up a regional research laboratory on plant remedies in Salt Lake, Calcutta, and it was here that she produced a number of notable drugs for serious ailments.
She investigated the properties of vinca alkaloids, simply put, plant extracts, now used in chemotherapy for cancer by inhibiting the ability of cells to divide. She produced the anti-convulsive drug Ayush-56 to treat epilepsy, alongside a number of antimalarial drugs derived from medicinal plants.
She published around 400 papers on her work and was extensively cited. Following her retirement in 1982, she was nominated by the President of India as a Member of the Rajya Sabha. She passed away from old age in 2006.
Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty
He may be a textbook staple for biological IPR and patent studies, but Professor Chakrabarty is also an Indian American microbiologist, immunologist, scientist, and researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, most notable for his work in directed evolution and his role in developing a genetically engineered organism using gene transfer while working at GE.
He is known for creating the “superbug”, a strain of Pseudomonas bacteria that can eat up oil spills and herbicides from polluted waters. He is known for the iconic Diamond vs Chakrabarty case, where the SCOTUS ruled in his favor, making the landmark decision that, “A live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Respondent’s micro-organism constitutes a ‘manufacture’ or ‘composition of matter’ within that statute.”
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) had suspended examination of all patent applications covering engineered microorganisms before. Since this was 1981, there were concerns at the time about releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment.
The superbugs proved effective against the oil of the disastrous Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 in a test carried out by Chakrabarty but was not used in the field, despite the tests also showing that the bacterial oil-degrading compounds were much less toxic than synthetic ones already in use. Currently, he is working on bacterial-sourced proteins for the treatment of cancer.
Before Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory’s (LIGO’s) official announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves, Joseph Weber in the 1960s almost detected their existence based on the prediction made by Einstein in 1916.
Astronomer Virginia Trimble, his wife, who now works at the University of California, Irvine, notes that Weber worked on his gravitational wave detectors even after the National Science Foundation (NSF) cut off his funding in 1987 and shifted its focus to developing LIGO—the agency ultimately spent more than $1 billion on it. With almost no funding, Weber worked on his devices until he died in 2000 at the age of 81.
Unfortunately for Weber, others failed to reproduce his signals. What’s more, as Weber stuck to his guns, others argued that Weber had, unawares, manipulated the data in ways that could conjure up false signals. Still, the physicist continued to experiment with his “Weber bars”, a device used in the detection of gravitational waves first devised and constructed by the physicist at the University of Maryland.
The device consisted of multiple aluminum cylinders, 2 meters in length and 1 meter in diameter, antennae for detecting gravitational waves for decades, and researchers in Russia and elsewhere also pursued the technique. Many physicists now credit Weber for kick-starting the search for gravitational waves. One of Weber’s bars now sits as a museum piece at the LIGO site in Hanford, Washington.
Oh, and by the way, it’s a load of vinegar and chili in your Sriracha.