HISTORYOF THE DEPARTMENT
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The Department of Botany was established in the year 1937 when the Madras Christian College left its urban location in George Town, Madras, and moved to the spacious denuded and abandoned Selaiyur Reserve Forest, Tambaram. The B.Sc. Degree course in Botany was started with just a couple of rooms in the science block of the main building with about a dozen students under the leadership of Professor M.S. Sabesan assisted by one lecturer and a tutor. Mr. M.S. Sabesan was recalled twice to serve the department after retirement in 1939. During the 1950s the student strength increased to 25 that include students from Sri Lanka and Malaysia. In the long course of 75 years (1937 - 2012) of journey, the Department of Botany has provided education and training in plant sciences for about 2550 undergraduates and about 675 post graduate students.

Subsequently the Department was nourished by the sincere services of Professor T.N. Venkatanathacharry (1939 – 1942), Professor G. Venkataraman who later became the Principal of R.M. Vivekananda College, Professor K. Rangasamy who shifted to Annamalai University and Professor A. Abraham who later became the head of Thiruvananthapuram University (now Kerala University). Professor A. Abraham was also the founder and the first Director of Tropical Botanical Garden and research Institute, Thiruvananthapuram.

Dr. K.R. Venkatasbban (1944-1968), one of the finest teachers of Botany, led the Department for over two decades. His scholarly lectures were appreciated and adored even by the Scottish Principals and many a student claim that they learnt English in Botany Department more than in the English Department. A renowned cytologist who contributed quality microtome slides to the Department. He also is the man behind the magnificent row of Tabebuia’s along the Principals Drive, which stands as a testimony for his love for plants. He was instrumental in starting the Postgraduate course in Botany in 1958. He also founded the PG Seminar Club that is still vibrant. In honour of Dr. K.R. Venkatasubban’s contributions to the Department a Rolling Trophy has been instituted for Inter-Collegiate Oratorical Competition.

Professor Damodaran Thampaan(1946 – 1978) headed the Department from 1968-1971. He wrote a textbook of Botany for Pre-University students that was widely used by the students.

Dr. Crispin Devadas (1956 – 1991)took charge as head in the year 1971 and served for a period of two decades. He was instrumental in developing the photography unit that included black and white printing facility. He is a fine artist whose sketches of plant specimens for Taxonomy practical classes are still a source of reference. Progress in research facilitated the Department to successfully initiate M.Phil. and Doctoral programs during his tenure as the head. Dr. Crispin strove hard to portray the strength of the department and channelize funds from Evangelische Zentralstelle fur Entwicklungshilfe E. V. Bonn, West Germany which saw the Department move to the separate spacious building in the year 1983 with specialized research laboratories for various fields.

Dr. D.E.P. Jeyasingh(1961 – 1966) who led the Department from 1991 - 1996 was instrumental in establishing a firm footprint in the field of Paleobotany. His skill in teaching and illustrating simultaneously was appreciated by his students. Dr. P. Dayanandan who led the department from 1996 – 2003, made strong strides in improving research activities and several funded research projects were carried out during his tenure  and the Department witnessed a spurt in the enrolment of M.Phil. and Ph.D. scholars. Dr. P. Dayanandan was awarded the best teacher award by the Government of Tamil Nadu. His contributions in the fields of Histochemistry, Gravitropism, Anatomy, Plant Growth Regulators and Physiology are globally recognized. Further Dr. P. Dayanandan became the first Professor Emeritus from the Department that is awarded by the DST and is engaged in writing a comprehensive book on ‘Rice’.

Dr. C. Livingston (1970 – 2007)who led the department from 2003 – 2007was a well-known Taxonomist of his period. He co-authored with Professor Giles Lal, the Campus Flora, an important reference source for the identification of plants in and around Tambaram. He revised the Flora of Madras and its neighborhoods which were published by the Madras Museum in 1994. Professor P. Joel Christopher led the department for one year from 2007 – 2008. He spearheaded the research in Seed Ecophysiological studies on several native species. His vision for improving the Department could not be accomplished due to an early heavenly call.

Professor T.V. Sambasivan taught as a Demonstrator from 1946 – 1953. He then moved to Glaxo Pharmaceticals and rose up to the highest cadre in the organization. Professor V. Narayanan served the Department from 1953 – 1955 and Professor S. Narayanan from 1959 – 1964. Professor Giles Lal (1949 – 1979), Dr. D.S. Rajasekaran (1958 – 1994), Professor B. Augustine (1966 – 1988), K. Selvaraj (1971 – 2004) and Professor Durairaj Rajiah (1978 – 2002)who have served their full term in the Botany Department and Dr. Dr. S. Madhavan (1969 – 1986), Professor M. Natarajan (1977 – 1982), Cordelia Premkumar (1977 – 1988), Professor Franklin Chandrasekaran (1978 – 1982), Professor Pon Samuel Jayakumar(1979 – 1992), Dr. P.T. Kalaichelvan (1981 - 1982)and Dr. V. Sivasubramaniam (1985)who have served the Department on brief terms have contributed immensely in providing best education and training to the students in their chosen areas of specialization. These academicians with commitment and dedication guided, promoted and nurtured the love for plants and a spirit of enquiry among the students. This continues to be the highlight of this department even at present. Dr. Pon Samuel Jayakumar served actively as a faculty member of this department during which he introduced novel experiments in Plant Physiology & Biochemistry besides introducing a course paper in Plant Tissue Culture and Experimental Embryogenesis in late 1980s.

The department witnessed significant innovative changes in the curriculum with the introduction of new papers and projects (optionals) at Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels besides high quality research projects carried out by the senior professors and their research scholars leading to several accomplishments thanks to the grant of autonomy in the year 1978.

It is indeed a matter of pride that many of the students of this Department are now shaping teaching of biology in schools, colleges and universities. Many of the alumni are holding positions as the leading researchers and scientists in the universities in India and abroad. 

The shifting of the Department in the year 1983 from the science block to a spacious two storied independent building designed and constructed with the monetary assistance from Evangelische Zentralstelle fur Entwicklungshilfe E. V. Bonn, West Germany marked the beginning of an era of research in several disciplines of plant sciences. This funding not only provided more spacious laboratories, but also necessary infrastructure to support and supplement research activity. An advanced spectrophotometer, Refrigerator, centrifuges, Sartorius electronic balance and Nikon microscopes for use by the faculty and a Nikon Labophot Trinocular Research Microscope fitted with a camera for photomicrography received by the department triggered an increase in research activities by the research scholars as well as the faculty members.

The department which initially had a spacious dark room with photographic equipment for black and white photo printing has progressed seamlessly to the digital photography and image processing that has aided the authenticity and originality of work carried out by the department. During the period (1980-2012) the department witnessed rapid progress in the sphere of academic programmes and research projects carried out by both the faculty and M. Phil. / Ph. D. scholars leading to publications in journals of national and international repute. The faculty regularly attended summer coaching camps, refresher courses, and workshops organized by many universities in the country and also obtained research degrees to supplement and strengthen the M. Phil. and Ph. D. programmes offered by the Department. The UG and PG students besides the M. Phil. and Ph. D. scholars received best of training and education in disciplines of plant sciences such as  Plant Physiology (Crop Physiology and Hormonal Research in Growth and Development of Plants, etc), Histochemistry, Floristics, Ethnobotany, Biodiversity, Algology, Plant Tissue Culture, Genetics, Palaeophytology, Palynology and Ecology. Several funding agencies such as Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology andDepartment of Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu, Department of Science and Technology, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Department of Biotechnology, University Grants Commission of Government of India and United Board for Christian Higher Education an International Organization, have provided financial support to groom science learning and research. In the last two decades the Department has received financial grants to a tune of more than one crore rupees from diverse sources to support the various research projects. The Department, to enhance employability offered an UGC sponsored certificate course in Medicinal Plant Tissue culture to the undergraduate students. The Department has five scholarships to encourage students who excel in their academics.

The department has a functional Shade House to propagate and maintain rare and endangered plants. The 360 acre campus also serves as a live laboratory for all the students to carry out independent research projects. In the past several decades several plant species have been added by a successive Curators from this Department, namely, Dr. K.R.Venkasubban, Professor Giles Lal, Dr. P. Dayanandan, and Dr. C. Livingstone.

Each decade has seen introspection and the challenges thrown up were countered effectively by careful foresight and properly planned progress making sure that the subject knowledge and students need are taken care of. The policy of economic liberalization, the crisis and constraints in funding of higher education, mushrooming of self-financing institutions, and public perception have tended to undermine the importance of plant sciences in the country. We are at present involved in an exercise of updating curricula at UG and PG levels and rejuvenate the teaching of plant Biology with a focus on Plant Biotechnology. The Convention on Biological Diversity has sharply brought to focus the importance of the study of Plants in our country of great biodiversity wealth and pressing environmental problems. In this context the course offered by the Botany Department has been renamed as Plant Biology and Plant Biotechnology both for B. Sc. va (2002-2003) and M. Sc. va (2006-2007) with the formal approval by the Senatus, University of Madras.

In Plant Biology special focus is being given to such disciplines as Biodiversity  - Angiosperm and Algal taxonomy, Seed Biology, Pollen biology, Ecology and Environment, Forest Biology, Cell Biology, Pollination and Dispersal Biology and those related to Plant biotechnology such as Plant Tissue Culture, Algal and Microbial Biotechnology, Molecular biology and Genetics, Plant Physiology and Biochemistry as well as Bioinformatics.The department has Internet facility that is networked to the entire lab and major classrooms through LAN (Local Area Network). A separate computer facility with net connection is thrown open to students. The Bioinformatics Infrastructure Facility (BIF) at the college has established an Extension Centre in the Botany Department. The Library has been fully computerized with free software BookDB2, under the initiative of Dr. M. Baluswami with the help of his project students. There are 2347 books, 2172 copies of Journals and 400 PG and M.Phil. Dissertations as on date. The computerization has facilitated easy access, lending and tracking.

Those men who served in the department as laboratory assistants, also contributed in their own way to the life and growth of the department. Mr. A. V. Paul Paliam was the senior most among them and in spite of his limited education (VII standard of his time) he could speak correct English and knew the binomials and families of practically all the plants of this locality - writes Dr. Crispin Devadoss former HOD in an article published in CAPPARIS magazine of 1987 edition. Others were Mr. Moses Samuel, Mr. Chacko and Mr. Dass, all of them were equally good in botanical knowledge and excellent in taking sections for anatomy practical and served the needs of the department with dedication and a sense of responsibility. Several other lab assistants such as Mr. Subramani, Mr. Ekambaram, Mr. Thangaraj, Mr. Moorthy, Mr. Michael and Mr. Mr. Venugopal also served the Department with dedication.

“Remember how great is God’s power; He is the greatest teacher of all” (Job 36: 22).

DEPARTMENT HIGHLIGHTS

One of the oldest Departments of Botany in Tamil Nadu State.

Offers Best Training in Plant Sciences at Under-graduate, Post-graduate and Research levels.

Focus on Research for more than seven decades.

Well known in research fields such as Algology, Angiosperm Taxonomy, Ethnobotany, Cytogenetics, Palynology, Plant Tissue Culture, Plant Histochemistry, Plant Growth Regulator Studies and Seed Physiology.

Field based studies for Biodiversity and Angiosperm Taxonomy.

Offers consultancy in Algae and Flowering Plants identification and in Medicinal Plants.

Former Professor and Head Dr. P. Dayanandan has received the Best Teacher award, from Government of Tamil Nadu.

Research Collaborations with institutes such as Tamil Nadu Forest Department, M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions, Bangalore; Centre for Plants, People and Ecosystems, Chennai and C.P. R. Environmental Education Research Centre, Chennai.

New Species and New Varieties in Algae and Flowering Plants have been described by the Staff and students of the Department.

Pollen Atlas for Chennai has been prepared by the Staff of the Department, which is referred by Allergy Specialists in Chennai.

Students of this Department are recognized for their knowledge and training in Botany and are recruited in Universities, Colleges, Non-Governmental Research Organizations in India and Research Institutes abroad.

A data base on Tamil Nadu Flora has been developed and subsequently revised by Centre for Floristic Research with financial assistance from Department of Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu.

A data base on Algae of Tamil Nadu has been developed by the Phycolab with financial assistance from Department of Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu.

A data base on Invasive and Alien Species of Tamil Nadu has been developed by the Centre for Floristic Research with financial assistance from Department of Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu.

Tree census # for Chennai Metropolitian city is being carried out in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Forest Department and is co-ordinated by Dr. D. Narasimhan.


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