Birbal Sahni obtained DSc (1919) from University of London and D Sc (1929) from University of Cambridge, UK. He was Professor of Botany, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi (1919-20) and Panjab University, Lahore (1920-21); Professor and Head, University of Lucknow (1921-49); and also First Director, Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow.
Academic and Research Achievements: Professor Sahni was deeply interested in botany, palaeobotany and geology. He made extensive contributions to the structure and affinities of certain zygopterid ferns. His studies on Indian Gondwana plants along with AC Seward, describe a number of entirely new fossil plants and involve revising several old species and their geological ranges. He also investigated the structure and affinities of various Indian fossil plants from Palaeozoic to the Quaternary beds. He founded a new group of fossil gymnosperms — Pentoxylae. He also made improvements in the techniques of studying fossil plants. Professor Sahni initiated a new line of work on the study of microfossils and their use in stratigraphical geology. The spore content of the Permo-carboniferous rocks of India occupied his attention for nearly fifteen years towards the end of his scientific career. These researches, from a wide range of strata, particularly the microfossils in the beds of saline series of the Salt Range was exciting. Fragments of plants and insects appeared to be not older than Tertiary although geologists had earlier considered the rocks to be of Cambrian age. It was the firm belief of Professor Sahni that fossil evidence was more dependable than evidence from mapping the beds in the field.
Other Contributions: Sahni’s gift to palaeobotany is the Institute he founded, named (posthumously) Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany at Lucknow. He also served on the Editorial Board of Chron Bot.
Awards and Honours: Professor Sahni was conferred numerous awards, notably Barclay Medal by the Asiatic Society (1936); Sir Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy National Prize; and Nelson-Wright Medal by Numismatic Society (1944). He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London and Asiatic Society; Vice-President, INSA, and Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore; President, National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad (1943-44); and Honorary Foreign Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was President, Botany Section (1921, 1938), Geology (1926) and Vice-President, Palaeobotany Section, International Botanical Congress (1935); General President (1940), Indian Science Congress; and Honorary General President, International Botanical Congress, Stocklom (1950).