She takes over from Dr Rajesh S Gokhale, who was in service for a three-month term in additional charge as CSIR DG from 1 May to 7 August this year. Gokhale received the new CSIR DG on 8 August.
Dr. Kalaiselvi Nallathamby is the first woman director general in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s 80-year history. She will be in service for two years. The new director general was selected this week, after the present DG Shekhar Mande’s term ended in April.
Before, Kalaiselvi cracked the glass ceiling in the CSIR by becoming the first female scientist to guide the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CSIR-CECRI) in 2019.
During her growing-up years, Kalaiselvi had completed her education in a simple Tamil medium school in the Tamil Nadu district of Tirunelveli. From there, she went on to chase her interest in science and exceeded at it. She started her career as an entry-level scientist and now has 25 years of experience in the field of research. Kalaiselvi joined CECRI in 1997 and advanced through the ranks to become its director in 2019, another first for a female scientist. She had no earlier experience in electrochemistry before she joined CECRI. She was an organic chemist who was a teacher of the subject at a private college for almost three years after getting her PhD from Annamalai University in Chidambaram. Kalaiselvi concentrates mainly concerned with electrochemical power systems, especially the development of electrode materials and the electrochemical evaluation of in-house manufactured electrode materials for appropriateness in energy storage device assembly.
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Lithium and beyond lithium batteries, supercapacitors, and waste-to-wealth driven electrodes and electrolytes for energy storage and electrocatalytic applications are some of her research interests. She is at present working on the development of Sodium-ion/Lithium-sulfur batteries and supercapacitors.
In addition to it, Kalaiselvi contributed so much to the National Mission for Electric Mobility. She has issued over 125 academic publications and holds six patents. Scientists and researchers are appreciating her on her appointment as Director General of the CSIR.
Who is Dr Kalaiselvi?
Coming from Ambasamudhram – a small city in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district – Kalaiselvi studied in a Tamil-medium school. While many might see it as a limitation, Kalaiselvi says that her schooling in Tamil medium and learning science in her mother tongue helped her in “quick grasping of science concepts and I built on that foundation when I joined college.”
Youngest among three siblings, 55-year-old Kalaiselvi has said that the progressive outlook of her parents of never discriminating between her and her brothers, and eventually a strong support system after she got married greatly helped her in her professional pursuits. After her finishing her PhD in Chemistry, Kalaiselvi was working as a professor for three years before joining CECRI in 1997. “I loved teaching. But, I was also aching for research. CECRI provided me with an opportunity to do both,” Kalaiselvi was told in a Times of India report. Kalaiselvi has been teaching in the CECRI’s B.Tech course in chemical and electrochemical engineering, which was launched in 1988.
Beginning her journey in the CSIR as an entry-level scientist, Kalaiselvi grew through the ranks to become the Director General of CSIR. Her research in CECRI has been in the lithium batteries division all time. At a time when life without mobile phones and remote-controlled appliances is unthinkable, the significance of lithium-ion batteries is supreme. Anyhow, a major part of the batteries is imported from other countries. At CECRI, Kalaiselvi is a part of the team that is operating on creating indigenous battery technology to meet the surging demands. Her work concentrates on the development of sodium-ion/lithium-sulphur batteries and super-capacitors that are commercially feasible.
Apart from batteries, Dr Kalaiselvi has been working on super-capacitors, waste-to-wealth electrodes, electrolytes for energy storage and electro-catalytic applications. She was instrumental in advancing the National Mission for Electric Mobility. In her research career spanning over a quarter century, Dr Kalaiselvi has authored more than 125 research papers and has six patents to her credit.
Other women who’ve shattered the glass ceiling in Central science and research institutes
While Dr Kalaiselvi’s accomplishment is a feat in itself, the contribution of the other women scientists who have helmed central scientific departments cannot be impaired.
As the Director of the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, Dr Priya Abraham made one of the most significant medical breakthroughs of our times. She confirmed the first sample of Covid-19 in India and secluded the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
‘Missile Woman’ of India – Dr Tessy Thomas – is the Director-General of Aeronautical Systems and the former Project Director for Agni-IV missile in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Armed with a PhD in missile guidance, she is the first woman scientist to head a missile project in India
The pioneer of biotechnology research in India, Manju Sharma went on to become the first woman Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology back in 1996. In spite of her stellar work in biotechnology, Dr Manju also played a significant role in establishing many institutions including the National Institute of Immunology, the National Institute of Plant Genome Research, the Biomass Research Centres at Lucknow and Madurai, the Plant Molecular Biology Unit in the University of Delhi and the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics.
The second woman Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology was Dr Renu Swarup from 2018 to 2021. In September 2021, she got the additional charge of Secretary, Department of Science and Technology (DST) — the first woman Secretary of the DST.
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