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22 March : Katsuko Saruhashi (1920)

March 21, 2018
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Saruhashi Katsuko is born Mar 22, 1920, in Tokyo, Japan. She is the first female who earned doctorate in chemistry from University of Tokyo. She was a geochemist who made first measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in seawater and subsequently showed the evidence in seawater and the atmosphere of the dangers of radioactive fallout.

Saruhashi Katsuko


When Saruhashi Katsuko was a young child, people would mock her about the ironic contrast between the name given to her and her personality. Her given name, Katsuko, literally translates as strong-minded or victorious. However, she was quite the opposite. Born in Tokyo in 1920, she was the long awaited baby girl of Saruhashi Kuniharu and Saruhashi Kuno. Spoiled by her parents and older brother Eiichi, Saruhashi was a shy, weeping, introverted little girl. She was a successful geochemist, who worked at the Japanese Transport Ministry’s Meteorological Research Institute (MRI) for 35 years. She was the first woman to be elected as the member of the Science Council of Japan, the country’s “parliament of science” (1981-1985). She was the first woman to receive the Miyake Prize for geochemistry in 1985. She established the Society of Japanese Women Scientists, but not just as a “system of compensatory recognition”. It was a platform to gather, discuss, and find practical solutions to the issues woman scientists faced and struggled.

Research contributions

Two research projects made Saruhashi particularly well-known as a geochemist. Both were pioneering in nature, and their significance was recognized both within Japan and beyond.

  1. The first was her study on carbonic acid substances in natural waters. In 1955, she published a paper, which included a table—later called the “Saruhashi’s Table”—that allowed researchers to determine the composition of three carbonic acid substances based on water temperature, pH level, and chlorinity.
  2. The second research project also started in the 1950s, following the nuclear testing in the Pacific, was her work on the measurement of artificial radioisotopes in seawater. The series of research Saruhashi conducted with Miyake Yasuo, her mentor, demonstrated the usefulness of radionuclides to trace ocean currents. This opened up a new method in oceanography. As a result of this work, in 1962, Saruhashi was invited to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at UC San Diego, to compare the two competing analytical techniques used by Japan and the United States in determining the fallout Cesium in seawater.

Awards and honors

  • 1958 – established the Society of Japanese Women Scientists to promote women in the sciences and contribute to world peace.
  • 1979 – named executive director of the Geochemical Laboratory.
  • 1980 – first woman elected to the Science Council of Japan.
  • 1981 – won the Avon Special Prize for Women, for researching peaceful uses of nuclear power and raising the status of women scientists.
  • 1981 – established the Saruhashi Prize, given yearly to a female scientist who serves as a role model for younger women scientists.
  • 1985 – first woman to win the Miyake Prize for geochemistry.
  • 1993 – won the Tanaka Prize from the Society of Sea Water Sciences.

Death & Quote

“There are many women who have the ability to become great scientists. I would like to see the day when women can contribute to science and technology on an equal footing with men.”

Saruhashi died September 29, 2007 at the age of 87 at her home in Tokyo.





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