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Who was Katsuko Saruhashi? Google honors legendary Japanese scientist

In honor of what would have been famed geochemist Katsuko Saruhashi’s 98th birthday, Google’s doodle team created a colorful illustration of the scientist for its homepage.

The illustration’s oceanic backdrop symbolizes Saruhashi’s contribution to the field of geochemistry, or the study of Earth’s chemical composition and the planet’s minerals.

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Born on March 22, 1920 in Tokyo, Saruhashi went on to become the first woman to earn a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Tokyo, where she was the first to accurately measure carbonic acid concentration levels based on pH level, chlorine concentration and temperature, according to Google’s blog.

Her carbonic acid measurement technique, named Saruhashi’s Table, was critical to oceanographers around the globe. And, according to Encyclopedia.com, Saruhashi’s research on radioactivity in seawater helped persuade the Soviet Union and the United States to halt above-ground nuclear testing.

Her work proved that fallout from the 1950s U.S. atomic tests in the Marshall Islands reached Japan less than two years later.

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In 1980, Saruhashi also became the first woman to get elected to the Science Council of Japan, and the first woman to earn the Miyake Prize for geochemistry five years later.

To inspire women to enter fields of science, the geochemist launched the Society of Japanese Women Scientists and established the Saruhashi Prize, an annual honor awarded to Japanese women researchers in the natural sciences.

“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,” she once said.

The great scientist died in Tokyo on Sept. 29, 2007 of pneumonia. She was 87.

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