Professor Panchanan Maheshwari, an illustrious figure in the realm of Indian botany, left an indelible mark on the scientific community with his groundbreaking contributions and visionary leadership. Born on November 9, 1904, in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and departing from this world on May 18, 1966, he was a pioneer in the field of plant biology.
- Born: 9 November 1904
- Died: 18 May 1966
- Nationality: Indian
- Famous as: Botanist
- Education: Ewing Christian College
- Work Field: Botany
- Awards: Birbal Sahni Medel in 1958
- Books: An Introduction to the Embryology of Angiosperms and Recent Advances in Embryology of Angiosperms
Panchanan Maheshwari was born in November 1904 in Jaipur (Rajasthan), India. He was an eminent botanist specializing in plant embryology, morphology and anatomy, plant physiology, and biochemistry.
He was one of the leading plant biologists who established the technique of test-tube fertilization of angiosperms. Maheshwari’s father was not a scientist but a clerk whose salary was not enough to fulfill their needs, but he was keened that his son should receive the best possible education that he could not get.
His parents not only trained him to spend life in a well-disciplined manner, but he worked more hours to raise the money needed for his son’s education and needs. He used to buy a lot of books for young Maheshwari. In fact, Maheshwari later spent more than he could afford on books and laboratory materials.
Panchanan Maheshwari always had a small laboratory at home and did research there in his spare hours. Mr. Maheshwari rose to become one of the most distinguished botanists for their contribution not only to India but to the entire world.
He worked on embryological aspects and popularised the use of embryological characters in taxonomy. He established the Department of Botany, at the University of Delhi as an important center of research in embryological studies and plant tissue culture.
Embryo culture techniques have many significant uses of applications in plant breeding, as well as their basic studies in physiology and biochemistry.
Immature embryo rescue and culture is one of the earliest and most successful techniques used for recovering and growing plants from sexual crosses where the majority of embryos cannot survive in vivo conditions or become dormant for a long period of time. He also emphasized the need for the initiation of work on the artificial culture of immature embryos.
He encouraged general education and made a significant contribution to school education through his leadership in bringing out the very first textbooks of biology for Higher Secondary Schools Published by NCERT in 1964.
His efforts were crowned with his success. Not only did the department develop and gain recognition abroad, but scientists elsewhere began to take up research in this field. Maheshwari can well be called the father of modern embryology.
Maheshwari wrote his two authoritative books, An Introduction to the Embryology of Angiosperms and Recent Advances in Embryology of Angiosperms.
Panchanan Maheshwari was educated at Ewing Christian College in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), intending to pursue a career in medicine.
At Ewing, Maheshwari came under the mentorship of Winfield Dudgeon but was unable to pursue his medical studies— it is said because of his weak eyesight, and changed his studies from medicine to science.
- Bachelor of Science in 1925
- Master of Science in 1931
- Doctor of Science in 1931
In addition to his research and achievements:
- Maheshwari was an educator and a publisher in his field. He taught Botany at the University of Delhi, establishing that department as a globally important center of research in embryology and tissue culture.
- Maheshwari founded the scientific journal Phytomorphology, for which he served as the chief editor until his death in 1966, and the more popular magazine Botanica.
- He also published texts to improve the standard of teaching of life sciences in schools to improve the understanding of the new generation.
- In 1951, he founded the International Society of Plant Morphologists.
Awards and honors
Panchanan Maheshwari was the most recognized scientist in the world and many academies honored him as the Foundational Fellow. He has received national and international recognition.
- In 1934 Maheshwari became a fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore.
- The Indian Botanical Society honored him with the Birbal Sahni Medal in 1958.
- He was the General President-elect of the Indian Science Congress Association for 1968, a role he could not fulfill on account of his untimely death on 18 May 1966. It was typical of him that he did not disclose this even to his family members, who learned it later only through newspapers.
- Panchanan Maheshwari was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1965, he was the second Indian Botanist to receive this accolade.
- Many of his well-wishers and his students honored him by naming their new findings after him:
- Panchanania jaipurensis (fungus)
- Isoetes panchananii