Celebrating Women in STEM: Anna Mani

Anna Mani was born in Travancore, India, on August 23, 1918. She loved to read, reading nearly all the books in Malayalam and English at her public library. On her eighth birthday, she asked her parents for a set of Encyclopedia Britannica instead of the family’s customary gift of diamond earrings. Of course, they obliged.

Though she considered a medical career, Mani decided she preferred physics. She graduated with a bachelor of science honors degree in 1939 from the Presidency College in Madras (now Chennai).

A year later, Mani began graduate research in physics at the Indian Institute of Science in the lab of the Nobel Prize-winning spectroscopist, C. V. Raman. Her work focused on properties of diamonds and rubies, including fluorescence, polarization and temperature dependence of the crystal structures.

Mani published five single-author papers of her findings between 1942 and 1945. In 1945, she submitted her Ph.D. dissertation to Madras University, but was told she couldn’t receive the degree because she had not completed a master of science degree first. Her unaccepted dissertation remains in the Raman Research Institute’s library.

However, Mani didn’t let her lack of a Ph.D. hold her back. She accepted a government scholarship to work with meteorological equipment at the Imperial College of London, England. She returned to India in 1948 and joined the Indian Meteorology Department, Pune. She standardized the designs for around 100 weather-related instruments, including rain gauges and barometers.

Her motto was, “Wrong measurements are worse than no measurements at all.”

Mani also set up stations to monitor solar radiation around India for future solar energy projects and developed the Indian ozonesonde—a balloon-borne instrument that measures the ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Mani retired from her position as deputy director general at the Indian Meteorology Department in 1976. She returned to the Raman Research Institute as a visiting professor and later started a research group to focus on India’s potential for solar and wind energy for the Indian Government’s Department of Science and Technology.

In the 1980s, Mani published two books about solar radiation in India and started a company that made instruments for solar radiation and wind speed.

She was involved in the World Meteorological Organization, the Indian National Science Academy, the American Meteorological Society and the International Solar Energy Society. In 1987, she was awarded the K. R. Ramanathan Medal by the Indian National Science Academy for her work in meteorology.

Mani passed away in 2001 after suffering a stroke in 1994. She lived an incredible, scientific life, inspiring the children’s book Anna’s Extraordinary Experiments in Weather, written by Nandita Jayaraj and available for free online.

Mani’s advice to young meteorologists was, “We have only one life. First equip yourself for the job, make full use of your talents and then love and enjoy the work, making the most of being out of doors and in contact with nature.”

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Email President Lauren Higgins (lahn7d@mail.umkc.edu) for more information.

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