Science

Anna Mani, The Pioneering Indian Physicist And Meteorologist

Karan Kamble

Aug 23, 2022, 06:19 PM | Updated 06:45 PM IST

Indian physicist and meteorologist Anna Mani (Photo: World Meteorological Organization)
Indian physicist and meteorologist Anna Mani (Photo: World Meteorological Organization)
  • Read all about “The Weather Woman of India,” the highly inspirational Anna Mani, whose birthday is marked by Google today.
  • Today’s Google Doodle (23 August) celebrates Indian physicist and meteorologist Anna Mani on her 104th birthday anniversary.

    Dr Anna Modayil Mani is referred to as “The Weather Woman of India.” She led the efforts, primarily through instrumentation, to study solar and wind energy, and atmospheric ozone.

    She “contributed to the study of radiation, ozone and atmospheric electricity, both on the surface and in the upper air using special sounding techniques,” according to her Indian National Science Academy (INSA) profile.

    Anna Mani was born in Peermade, Travancore (now part of Kerala), in 1918. Her father was an engineer in charge of roads and bridges with the Travancore Public Works Department.

    “Her formative years were spent engrossed in books,” Abha Sur, a scientist-turned-science-historian, writes in a profile for the Indian Academy of Sciences.

    Anna Mani went to school at His Highness the Maharaja's School for Girls at Trivandrum and later at the Christava Mahilalayam High School for Girls at Alwaye.

    After high school, she studied science at Women’s Christian College (WCC). She then went on to complete her undergraduate studies (BSc Honours, 1939) in physics and chemistry from Presidency College, Madras (now Chennai), although she had initially wanted to study medicine.

    Anna Mani spent a year working at WCC before moving to the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in 1940, a year after finishing college, armed with a scholarship.

    And if that wasn’t enough, she had Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, the head of the Department of Physics at the time, as her supervisor.

    She obtained her AIISc (1941) from IISc with a specialisation in meteorology and atmospheric sciences.

    Anna Mani went about her research work, on the spectroscopy of rubies and diamonds, which resulted in five research papers and a doctoral dissertation; however, she was refused a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree, as revealed in her “Ek Pradarshini 2018” profile by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), by Madras University (which gave out PhDs for research work done at IISc).

    The refusal in 1945 was on account of Mani not having had a Master’s degree. (The PhD thesis now resides in the library of Raman Research Institute.)

    Anna Mani then went overseas, to Imperial College London, on a government scholarship to study physics, but she ended up specialising in meteorological instruments due to limitations of the scholarship — they specifically needed expertise in meteorological instrumentation.

    In 1946, Anna Mani studied at the Harrow branch of the British Meteorological Office and worked to develop new and improved instruments.

    She came back to India in 1948 to join the India Meteorological Department (IMD) in Pune, where, as per her DBT profile, “she standardised the drawings of about 100 weather related instruments for production.”

    She would rise through the ranks of the IMD pretty swiftly to become the Deputy Director General (DDG).

    As part of her work, she set up stations to monitor solar radiation — further to overseeing the making of radiation instruments — across India towards building capacity to harness solar energy. She, in fact, even carried out measurements on behalf of the Departments of Science and Technology, and of Non-conventional Energy Sources.

    It led to the publication of two comprehensive volumes on solar radiation over India — Handbook of Solar Radiation Data for India (1980) and Solar Radiation Over India (1981).

    While “ozone” has been the buzzword these last two to three decades, Anna Mani began measurements of the atmospheric ozone as early as 1960 using an instrument she designed herself, called “ozonesonde.”

    Anna Mani also set up a meteorological observatory at the Thumba rocket launching facility, where the seeds of India’s space programme were famously sown.

    Anna Mani retired as IMD DDG in 1976 and served, thereafter, as a visiting professor at Raman Research Institute for three years. She additionally worked as a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune.

    Anna Mani’s work with wind speed and energy measurements at over a 100 wind-monitoring stations during the 1980s and 1990s laid the foundation for the country’s wind energy programme.

    “I believe that wrong measurements are worse than no measurements at all. Unless instruments are properly designed and built, accurately calibrated and correctly exposed and read, meteorological measurements have no meaning,” Anna Mani said in a 1991 interview with Dr Hessam Taba for the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Bulletin.

    She notably led the Wind Energy Survey Project Group, which gave rise to several volumes of Wind Energy: Resource Survey In India, prepared under the project financed by the Department of Non-conventional Energy Sources.

    These volumes became, according to her INSA profile, “the Bible for scientists and engineers involved with the conversion of wind energy to electrical energy.”

    Her work was accomplished at the Bangalore (now Bengaluru) field research unit of the IITM, Pune. Thirteen wind farms were established in nine states for nearly 40 MW power generation in just a matter of a few years — over the second half of the 1980s — as a result of the project work.

    The Central Radiation Laboratory at Pune and the National Ozone Centre at New Delhi, too, were enriched by Anna Mani’s fantastic work to become the prominent centres they are today.

    A lecture series instituted by the Working Group for Gender Equity (WGGE, part of the Astronomical Society of India) bears Anna Mani’s name. The “Anna Mani Gender Equity Lecture Series” is part of the WGGE’s efforts at “increasing gender sensitisation in the astronomy community in India.”

    A total of 13 Anna Mani lectures have been delivered thus far by prominent astronomers, including Rohini Godbole and even pulsar discoverer Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

    There's also an 'Anna Mani Award for Woman Scientist', instituted by Madhavan Rajeevan when he was Secretary to the Ministry of Earth Sciences (2015-2021).

    Despite her obvious tremendous example and inspiration as a “woman in science,” Anna Mani once notably said, “My being a woman had absolutely no bearing on what I chose to do with my life.”

    She was a Fellow/Member of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian Meteorological Society, American Meteorological Society, Royal Meteorological Society, Solar Energy Society of India, and International Solar Energy Society, among others.

    She even held several key positions in the United Nations World Meteorological Organization. She was also a member of the INSA Council from 1982 to 1984 and received INSA’s KR Ramanathan Medal in 1987.

    With her 104th birth anniversary following in the footsteps of a landmark Indian Independence Day celebration, quoting the introduction to the 1991 WMO Bulletin interview with Anna Mani is pertinent —

    “Miss Mani has always stood up for her native country. She would react rapidly and forcefully to any adverse criticism of anything Indian, but would be the first to admit that there was still room for the kind of improvements to which she herself devoted much of her effort."

    Anna Mani passed away on 16 August 2001, almost at her 83rd birthday, after an extraordinary life of accomplishment and example.

    Karan Kamble writes on science and technology. He occasionally wears the hat of a video anchor for Swarajya's online video programmes.


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