They paid tribute on March 22nd to geochemist, Katsuko Saruhashi, who would have been 98 years old. She passed away back in 2007 in Tokyo, Japan.
Saruhashi is credited with accurately measuring the amount of carbonic acid in water, based on its temperature, pH level, and chlorinity. The table she created from this discovery, accurately named “Saruhashi’s Table”, has been used as a critical tool for oceanographers to this day.
Her research revealed that seawater releases about twice as much carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as it absorbs, making it an issue today for combating climate change.
“Now everyone is concerned about carbon dioxide, but at the time nobody was,” Saruhashi said regarding the time she began her research.
Saruhashi’s second extraordinary contribution to science was her research on quantifying nuclear pollution caused by testing in the 1950’s. She was able measure the amount of radioactivity in seawater and found that the effects from the U.S. and Soviet Union atomic tests in the Marshall Islands had reached Japan after about a year and a half.
Saruhashi and her colleagues had discovered that the fallout had not dispersed evenly throughout the ocean. The concentrations of radioactive cesium near Japan were much higher than the concentrations along the West Coast of the U.S.
The team found that the reason for this uneven distribution was due to Japan being downstream of the Pacific nuclear testing ground. Her discovery on how radioactivity spreads led to restrictions on oceanic nuclear experimentation in 1963.
Saruhashi was a pioneer not only in the field of geochemistry, but worked tirelessly to support female scientists.
From an early age, Saruhashi had a passion for education that was brought up in her by her mother. After the horrific experiences of WWII, the need for education only increased as Saruhashi became convinced that women needed to acquire technical knowledge in order to gain independence.
She was the first woman to earn a PhD in chemistry from the University of Tokyo in 1957, the first woman elected to the Science Council of Japan in 1980, and the first woman to win the Miyake Prize of geochemistry in 1985—an award that was named after her mentor, Miyake Yasuo.
To pave a better path for woman in science, Saruhashi also started the Society of Japanese Women Scientists in 1958. The society’s mission is to have more women contributing to science, facilitate friendship and knowledge among women scientists, and the ultimate goal of the advancement of world peace.
“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 once said.
In 1981, Saruhashi continued her work for women in science by founding the Saruhashi Prize, which recognizes female sciences and their contributions to research in natural sciences.
Katsuko Saruhashi was once quoted saying, “I wanted to highlight the capabilities of women scientists. Until now, those capabilities have been secret, under the surface.”
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