Thursday, September 22, 2016

The 37's: How i came to find more information about Janaki Ammal

"Rust" - high levels of ferric oxide, led star trek voyager to a old automobile floating through space. They find even more evidence of human objects on a planet, halfway across the universe in the delta quadrant. True to their nature of exploration, they follow these pieces to find the 37. "The 37" are actually earth humans that were "abducted by aliens" in the 20th century and transported to the delta quadrant. Some of the progeny of these individuals manage to overthrow the alien masters and establish a human civilization in the far off Delta quadrant. While i could begin to wonder if a population from such a small group of people would have enough diversity to sustain a whole new earth, it has to be pointed out that the aliens have abducted very different people, a world war 2 Japanese soldier, a African-American farmer and even Amelia Earhart.

Yes, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean who disappeared leaving behind numerous theories about what happened. This episode of star trek is a fitting tribute to Amelia and her legacy of inspiring generations of men and women that followed. Another lady who was active during the same time, traveled half way across the world, was a scientist of repute, Janaki Ammal. Apart from various academic achievements, a Padma Shri award has been conferred on her by the government of India. Her story is one of pioneering inspiration and grit.

Recently, while walking past the Rackham graduate school (Janaki Ammal was a Barbour scholar at University of Michigan) i was somehow reminded of her. After some digging around,  i came to know that the Bentley archives has maintained some of the correspondence involving her. Hopefully, i will be able to share the details of the contents and discuss some of interesting parts on this blog. The archive managers were super-helpful in finding the material and some of the digitized photographs. Given below are two of the photographs which include Janaki Ammal.

She is rather easy to spot as she is the only Indian lady in both pictures, even without the writing below the second picture.

My hope is to be get hold of the 15 – 20 letters worth of correspondence between Dr. Janaki Ammal and the Blanchard family in Box 5 of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens records and some additional correspondence in Box 11 of the University Herbarium records. It will be especially interesting to read about her experiences during the second world war.