Giants in History: Darshan Ranganathan

The fiercely independent organic chemist 

Darshan Ranganathan (04 June 1941 - 04 June 2001)


A pioneer of bio-organic chemistry, Darshan Ranganathan (4 June 1941 – 4 June 2001) is remembered for developing a protocol for synthesising imidazole, a compound used to make antifungal drugs and antibiotics. Widely considered India’s most prolific researcher in chemistry, she also published dozens of papers in renowned journals on protein folding, molecular design, chemical simulation of key biological processes, and the synthesis of functional hybrid peptides and nanotubes. Educated in Delhi, Ranganathan’s career moved into high gear when she received a research fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, which enabled her to conduct postdoctoral research on organic natural products at Imperial College London. There, she studied compounds such as cycloartenol, a type of plant sterol found in jackfruit. Since jackfruits weren’t available in England, Ranganathan enlisted her mother’s help to ship them from India.  Independent and strong-willed, Ranganathan was undeterred when, upon her return to India, she was denied faculty status in the same university department as her husband, owing to administrators’ concerns over conflict of interest. In response, Ranganathan funded her entire research career through multiple independent fellowships, a strategy which enabled the couple to publish several books on organic chemistry together. Ranganathan became a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences. She also won the A.V. Rama Rao Foundation Award, the Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Visiting Fellowship, Third World Academy of Sciences Award in Chemistry, and the Sukh Dev Endowment Lectureship.

Imperial College
Delhi University
IIT Kanpur
Academic disciplines: 
A. V. Rama Rao Foundation Award
Third World Academy of Sciences Award in Chemistry
Giants in History promotional banner