Everything else.. Who are the Sri Lankans changing the world?

Who are the Sri Lankans changing the world?

2021 Nov 12

How innovative are our Sri Lankans? Here’s a list of Sri Lankans who are changing the game and creating history! Their work has been decisive in transforming societies and creating positive change. They have made their mark in the international arena with their passion, talent and creativity across various fields.

Suranga Nanayakkara

Suranga founded the “Augmented Human Lab” (https://ahlab.org/) in 2011, exploring designing intelligent human-computer interfaces that extend the limits of perceptual and cognitive capabilities. His work is most important to those who face challenges in functioning due to sensory deficits in hearing or vision.

He is also known for his work on EyeRing – a finger-worn interface for seamless interactions such as gestures; Haptic Chair – an audiovisual system to provide a more satisfying musical experience to deaf people; and StickEars – a sound-based sticky note like device to make everyday objects more accessible.  Each StickEar sensor node consists of a miniature microphone and speaker to provide sound-based input/output capabilities.

He has won many awards, including the Young Inventor Under 35 (TR35 award) in the Asia Pacific region by MIT TechReview, Outstanding Young Persons of Sri Lanka (TOYP), and INK Fellowship 2016.


Dr. Champika Ellawala Kankanamge

Dr. Kankanamge is a senior lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Ruhuna. She has been recognised globally for her research on aquatic ecosystem conservation and pollution control.

She’s among the five researchers to win the 2020 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World. Her work is towards the controlling of invasive aquatic plants in river ecosystems, preventing ecosystem degradation by restoring shade and encouraging the natural resistance of native plants in the ecosystem to invasive species.


Dr. Hiranya Peiris

Dr. Peiris is best known for her work on cosmic microwave background radiation. She’s a Professor of Astrophysics at University College London (UCL), Director of the UCL Cosmoparticle Initiative, and a Director of the Oskar Klein Centre (http://www.okc.albanova.se/) for Cosmoparticle Physics in Stockholm.

Here are a few of the many prizes she’s been awarded to recognise her talent and hard work. The cosmologist was one of 27 scientists who received the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2018, awarded for “detailed maps of the early universe.”  Additionally, the Fred Hoyle Medal and Prize of the UK Institute of Physics was awarded to her for “her leading contributions to understanding the origin and evolution of cosmic structure.” She was awarded the Göran Gustafsson Prize in physics by the Göran Gustafsson Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences “for her innovative research on the early universe dynamics, which links cosmological observations to basic physics.”

In 2021, Dr. Peiris was awarded the Max Born Medal and Prize by the German Physical Society and the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society for her contributions to cosmology.  She’s currently a member of STFC Council, the senior strategic advisory body of the research council that funds particle physics and astronomy in the United Kingdom.


Dr. Ranga Dias

Dr. Dias is an internationally recognised scientist whose research focuses on probing quantum phenomena under extreme pressures and temperatures. He played a significant role in discovering Atomic Metallic Hydrogen H2 (solid), the rarest metal on Earth, in 2016 and 2017. The discovery was the result of the joint research activities of Issac Silvera and Dr. Ranga Dias.

A team led by Dr. Ranga Dias discovered the world’s first-ever room-temperature superconductor. This revolutionary discovery in physics solved the long-standing struggle of physicists to create a superconductor at room temperature.


Rakitha Malewana

Rakitha Malewana’s work focuses mainly on Medical and Molecular Biology research. Rakitha is famed for his award-winning work in developing successful therapies for HIV/AIDS and Leukemia.

In 2016, he won the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award by the Royal Commonwealth Society for his social work on behalf of the HIV and AIDS positive community. His research employing nanotechnology as a functional therapeutic drug on human leukemic cells won a bronze medal at the International Science Projects Olympiad 2014, held in Jakarta, Indonesia. In 2012, Rakitha invented a unique method for irrigation water conservation. It won a merit award at the Stockholm Junior Water Prize National Competition.


Manju Gunawardana

Gunawardana is a senior research scientist from Matara. One of his remarkable inventions was the Nano Bulb as a solution to curb the spread of influenza. The award-winning Sri Lankan researcher and inventor asserts that he has a possible solution to the Coronavirus and other airborne diseases.

The nano bulb with its outer surface applied with nanoparticles eliminates toxic particles, bacteria and viruses in the atmosphere. It can be fixed in bathrooms or the kitchen to destroy germs. Gunawardana has a patent issued by the United States for this invention.


Dinesh Katugampala

He invented the world’s first radius meter – a device to find any sphere or arc radius. Before building the device, Katugampala came up with a mathematical formula to measure the radius of a part of a circle. His mathematical derivation is called the Square Dual Theorem and is the basis for the radius meter.

He invented the apparatus in 2008 while studying for his National Diploma in Technology (NDT) at the University of Moratuwa. In 2009, Katugampala patented both his creation and the mathematical formula. He also wants his Square Dual Theorem to be included in mathematics textbooks and taught in schools.


Dr. Anupa Herath

Dr. Herath won the gold medal for his version of the laryngoscope in 2017 at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva and received special congratulations from the jury. The ‘Video-Laryngoscope with Extended Functions’ that he produced has made intubation easier and saved many lives.


Dr. Asha de Vos

She is a marine biologist, ocean educator and the first Sri Lankan with a Ph.D. in marine mammal research. What’s more? She’s a pioneer in blue whale research within the Northern Indian Ocean! In 2019, Dr. de Vos was listed as one of the Twelve Women Change-makers by the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

Dr de Vos is a TED Senior Fellow, Marine Conservation Action Fund Fellow and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. She founded Oceanswell (https://oceanswell.org/), Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education organisation. Her work has been displayed internationally, by the BBC, Channel 7 Australia, New York Times, CNN, Wired UK, New Scientist and National Geographic.

According to Dr. de Vos, “we forget that nature doesn’t need us. We need nature.” This adventurer, conservationist, diver and researcher has received several awards, including the WINGS WorldQuest – Woman of Discovery Sea Award, Ada Derana Sri Lankan of the Year – Emerging Global Scientist Award, and Study UK Alumni Award.  She also won the 2021 Tällberg-SNF-Eliasson Global Leadership Prize from the Tallberg Foundation (https://tallbergfoundation.org/).  She hopes to change the current marine conservation model, protect the population of blue whales and inspire the next generation of diverse ocean heroes worldwide!

These Sri Lankans have certainly impacted the world around us with their dedication. Although we only see the end product, each of them would be able to share unique stories of how much they had to struggle to achieve success. The tremendous impact of their past work and those inventions that are yet to transform the future is genuinely admirable. Indeed, without these great Sri Lankan change-makers, the world would look pretty bleak, right? So, here’s a big thank you to our great innovators and creative minds – for beating all odds to solve problems and make the world a better place.