Woman of the Week: Katsuko Saruhashi

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Paper Epiphanies’ Woman of the Week this week is one badass woman who showed the world who’s boss. She not only contributed valuable scientific research to the world, but also made huge strides for women in her native country of Japan. Born in 1920 in Tokyo, Katsuko Saruhashi graduated from the Imperial Women’s College of Science in 1943. She then began working in the Geochemical Laboratory of the Meteorological Research Institute, eventually becoming its executive director in 1979.

In 1950, Saruhashi started studying carbon dioxide levels in seawater; a topic viewed as unimportant at the time, but which lead to the significant discovery of the mass spread of radiation. In 1954 the US conducted several nuclear tests  in the Pacific Ocean in what is called Operation Castle and which led to the mysterious illness of several Japanese fishermen who were downwind from the tests. CO₂ research was so undervalued Saruhashi had to create her own methods of measuring the gas (still the standard way to conduct this research today), but her results unveiled radioactivity as a serious pollutant due to infect the entire Pacific Ocean by 1969 if nuclear tests continued. Saruhashi’s research had a serious impact on nuclear testing regulations in the US and the world.

As if her resume wasn’t bulky enough, Saruhashi was also the first woman to earn her doctorate in Chemistry, the first woman elected to the Science Council of Japan and the first woman to win the Miyake Prize for Geochemistry. In addition to saving our oceans and pioneering the field of chemistry for women, Saruhashi contributed a huge amount to empowering women in Japan and around the world. She created the Society of Japanese Women Scientists and the Saruhashi Prize, which is awarded once a year to a female scientist who is a role model for other female scientists.

Geochemist; Genius; GIRL: Saruhashi died at 87 years old in 2007 from pneumonia but continues to impact the world and women with her incredible research and powerful achievements.