Famous Indian Scientists
Birbal Sahni (14 November 1891 ? 10 April 1949) was an Indian paleobotanist who studied the fossils of the Indian subcontinent, was also a geologist who took an interest in archaeology. He founded the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany in Lucknow, India. His greatest contributions lie in the study of botany of the plants of India as well as paleobotany. Apart from writing numerous influential papers on these topics he also served as the President of the National Academy of Sciences, India and as an Honorary President of the International Botanical Congress, Stockholm. He died on 10 April 1949.In 1917, Sahni joined Professor Seward to work on a 'Revision of Indian Gondwana plants' (1920, Palaeontologica Indica). In 1919 he briefly worked in Munich under the German plant morphologist Goebel. In 1920 he married Savitri Suri, daughter of Sunder Das Suri who was an Inspector of Schools in Punjab. Savitri took an interest in his work and was a constant companion. Sahni returned to India and served as Professor of Botany at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and Punjab University for about a year. He was appointed the first Professor and Head of the Botany Department of the Lucknow University in 1921. The University of Cambridge recognized his researches by the award of the degree of Sc. D. in 1929. In 1932 Palaeontologica Indica included his account of the Bennettitalean plant that he named Williamsonia Sewardi, and another description of a new type of petrified wood, Homoxylon, bearing resemblance to the wood of a living homoxylous angiosperm, but from the Jurassic age. During the following years he not only continued his investigations but collected around him a group of devoted students from all parts of the country and built up a reputation for the University which soon became the first Center for botanical and palaeobotanical investigations in India. Sahni maintained close relations with researchers around the globe, being a friend of Chester A. Arnold, noted American paleobotanist who later served his year in residence from 1958-1959 at the institute. He was a founder of The Paleobotanical Society which established the Institute of Palaeobotany on 10 September 1946 which initially functioned in the Botany Department of Lucknow University but later moved to its present premises at 53 University Road, Lucknow in 1949. On 3 April 1949 the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone of the new building of the Institute. A week later, on 10 April 1949, Sahni succumbed to a heart attack.
Sahni was recognized by several academies and institutions in India and abroad for his research. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (FRS) in 1936, the highest British scientific honor, awarded for the first time to an Indian botanist. He was elected Vice-President, Palaeobotany section, of the 5th and 6th International Botanical Congresses of 1930 and 1935, respectively; General President of the Indian Science Congress for 1940; President, National Academy of Sciences, India, 1937?1939 and 1943-1944. In 1948 he was elected an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Another high honor which came to him was his election as an Honorary President of the International Botanical Congress, Stockholm in 1950, but he died before he could serve. After his demise, Sahni's samadhi was placed within the Institute of Paleobotany as a reminder of his groundbreaking work.