Swapna Krishna

Feb 16th 2022

These Trailblazing Indian Women Are Shaking Up Science and Technology


It may seem like the gender gap is closing, but at least in STEM fields, there is still a long way to go. Non-male scientists all around the world deal with this gap, whether you’re talking about American women or Indian women. A study published in the journal Science demonstrates that this isn’t due to men being better or having higher achievements in math or science. In fact, the study showed that women actually have higher achievement in math and science than men.

The issue was that only the highest-achieving women pursued STEM fields, whereas men with poorer grades and test scores didn’t let these lower marks dissuade them from pursuing a technical career. The issue, according to an NYU study, is confidence. “Our results suggest that boosting STEM confidence and earlier career aspirations might raise the numbers of high-achieving women in [physics, engineering, and the computer sciences], but the same kinds of interventions are less likely to work for average and lower-achieving girls, and that something beyond all these student factors is drawing low-achieving men to these fields,” said lead researcher Joseph R. Cimpian in a release.

This problem is persistent everywhere. India is a country well-known for excellence in STEM fields, but those areas are dominated by men. According to The Hindu, Dr. Namrata Gupta has pointed out that India’s patrilineal society has discouraged women from working; it’s only recently that Indian women working has been embraced and encouraged. Just 10 to 15% of people in STEM research fields in India are women.

However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t Indian women doing incredible work. There are Indian women scientists, engineers and people working in technology who are making impressive strides and putting India on the global map. We’ll introduce you to just a few of them here.

Muthayya Vanitha: India’s Rocket Woman

India has a thriving space program called the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). In 2019, the ISRO sent an uncrewed mission to the moon called Chandrayaan-2 (which, according to Vox is Sanskrit for “moon craft”) that consisted of an orbiter, a lander and a rover. While the lander and rover malfunctioned and crash-landed on the moon, the orbiter is still sending back data and even found water molecules on the lunar surface.

Muthayya Vanitha, the project director for Chandrayaan-2, is considered one of India’s “rocket women” due to her work on the mission. According to the India Times, this was the first time that an Indian woman was put in charge of a big-budget ISRO mission, though they have previously led smaller-profile operations.

An electronic systems engineer, Muthayya Vanitha graduated from the College of Engineering in Guindy, Chennai, and according to Forbes India, she’s been with the ISRO for 33 years. Her background is in satellite communications and digital signal processing. Vanitha was persuaded to take on the role of project director (a promotion from her previous associate director role) by M Annadurai, a famous aerospace engineer known as the “Moon Man of India.” In 2019, Vanitha was named a “Person to Watch” by the journal Nature.

Gagandeep Kang: A Leader Searching for a Rotavirus Vaccine

Dr. Gagandeep Kang is one of the most prominent Indian scientists thanks to her work on intestinal diseases in children. She currently serves as a professor of microbiology in the Department of Gastrointestinal Sciences at India’s Christian Medical College. She’s the first Indian woman scientist to be invited to join The Royal Society in London.

Kang trained at Christian Medical College but decided to go into public health and research rather than practice medicine. “I enjoyed the idea of public health and working with community rather than working with a single patient,” she said in an interview with The Print. “So I decided to try it out, and I ended up in gastrointestinal research.” She worked in the UK and the United States before returning to India to focus on Indian children.

Indian children experience more rotavirus infections (which affect the intestines, causing diarrhea and vomiting) at younger ages than children in other countries and before their immune systems are fully developed. Kang’s work as an Indian scientist has been crucial in the hunt for a new rotavirus vaccine.

Kang has also been one of the Indian scientists on the forefront of COVID-19 policy, and according to The Lancet, her future goals lie in closing gaps of inequality within India’s health care system.

Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan: NASA Scientist and Silicon Valley Pioneer

From Mumbai to Pluto to Silicon Valley, Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan makes waves everywhere she goes as an Indian woman and scientist. She was born and raised in the vibrant and bustling city of Mumbai, and according to a profile in Her Story, education was always important in her household. She got her undergraduate degree at Boston University and went on to pursue a doctorate at Stanford in information theory and algorithms.

“As part of my Ph.D. program, I built a communication chip used on board the New Horizons spacecraft,” Sivaramakrishnan told the San Francisco Business Times. New Horizons has since completed its mission to study Pluto and is currently in the Kuiper Belt, heading outside the solar system.

Since her pivotal work on NASA’s New Horizons mission, Sivaramakrishnan has pursued a different area of tech: advertising. She was the lead scientist for AdMob, which was purchased by Google in 2010. She founded the tech company DrawBridge in 2010, and it soon became the fastest-growing female-led company in the United States, according to Business Insider.

It’s clear that women around the world have a long way to go before achieving equality in STEM fields. But these inspiring, engaging, passionate Indian women are blazing a trail for younger women to follow in their footsteps, and they are changing the world as they do it.

Are you interested in science and innovation? We are, too. Check out Northrop Grumman career opportunities to see how you can participate in this fascinating time of discovery.