How Small town girl Nallathambi Kalaiseelvi become the first woman to head India’s top scientific body

Senior scientist Nallathambi Kalaiseelvi was on Saturday appointed as the Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the first woman to head a consortium of 38 research institutes across the country.

Known for her work in the field of lithium-ion batteries, Kalaiseelvi is currently the Director of CSIR-Central Electrochemical Research Institute in Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu.

She will replace Shekhar Mande, who retired in April. On the retirement of Mande, Rajesh Gokhale, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, has been given additional charge of CSIR.

Her appointment is for a period of two years from the date of assumption of charge or until further orders, whichever is earlier, a Personnel Ministry order said on Saturday.

This is not the first time that Nallathambi Kalaiseelvi is creating history by becoming the first woman to head an institution. She has broken the glass ceiling before 2019 when she became the first woman to head the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CSIR-CECRI).

Kalaiseelvi will also take over as Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

N Kalaiselvi has progressed through the ranks of CSIR from starting her career in research to becoming the Director General of CSIR as an entry-level scientist.

Hailing from Ambasamudram, a small town in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, Kalaiseelvi attended a Tamil medium school, which helped her grasp science concepts in college.

Kalaiselvi’s more than 25 years of research work has focused primarily on electrochemical evaluation of in-house prepared electrode materials for electrochemical power systems and, in particular, the development of electrode materials and their suitability in energy storage device assembly.

Her research interests include supercapacitors and waste-to-money powered electrodes and electrolytes for energy storage and electrocatalytic applications, beyond lithium and lithium batteries.

She is currently involved in the development of practically viable sodium-ion/lithium-sulfur batteries and supercapacitors. Kalaiseelvi also made a significant contribution to the National Mission for Electric Mobility. She holds more than 125 research papers and six patents.