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University Grants Commission - Sri Lanka

Vice Chairman's speech - Introduction of Professor Ruchira Cumaranatunga as the General President of SLASS in 2013

It with a sense of joy and a humbling honour that I rise before this august assembly to fulfil an onerous task in keeping with the hallowed traditions of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science. Founded in 1945, the SLASS has been at the apex of the scientific edifice of the country, and as the premier national association of scientists and technologists of all disciplines, it has been making signal contributions to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge in the country. It is a fountainhead of concepts and ideals for scientific and technological development and its members constitute the brain-trust of the country who constantly endeavour to increase the pace of national development through promotion of scientific research and technological development.

My principal task today is to introduce the General President of the SLASS for 2013; however, as per the invitation received I have been asked to address you as well. But I take note that you are assembled here today not to listen to me but to your General President, and hear her new ideas, perspectives and plans and how she proposes to charter a new course and blaze a new trail, taking this great institution to a new high along a new trajectory in keeping with her vision as well as the national needs. Therefore, I shall be brief in my address to do justice to the programme.

As you are aware, science and technology have made great strides producing marvels so that nothing seems impossible today. With the advent of ICT, distance is no more, and any place, irrespective of distance, is only a mouse click away. Biotechnology can transfer genes of the fire fly to orchids to make them glow at night. Advances in nanotechnology can make clothes that could render man invisible. A Canadian company called Hyperstealth is reporting that it has developed Quantum Stealth, a material that renders the target “completely invisible by bending light waves around it”. The perfect invisibility cloak developed by this Company can make the US military or even robbers invisible. Convergent Technology, i.e. the integration of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) will enable man to communicate with persons that have died, but are electronically “archived” (archived figures) and the blind to “see” with the tongue. With this technology, you can expand the memory of your brain so that you can know the meaning, pronunciation or spelling of any word in English or any other language, and this will make the process of learning new languages a cakewalk.
Have such breathtaking innovation and technological marvels contributed to human wellbeing and betterment of mankind? Have they contributed to bridging the gap between haves and have-nots? The answer is unfortunately, NO. It has, on the contrary, added to the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots. As described by Prof. Choon Fong Shih, former President of the National University of Singapore in his paper “The University’s Functional and Civilizing Mission in a Crowded, Culturally Complex World” (2007), technological innovations in the Industrial and Information Ages followed by material wellbeing have led to divergence between technological innovation and socio-cultural evolution. This has given rise to increasing frequency and intensity of conflict, turmoil, violence and chaos the world over. Technological advances, though have yielded material wellbeing, they have not contributed to the development of whole person – body, mind, heart and soul. Therefore we need to go beyond Science & Technology to address socio-cultural issues on this over-populated, culturally complex planet. Humanities and Social Sciences have a humanizing and civilizing influence on man and promote “Heartware”. Therefore, just as much as Hard Sciences (Natural, Physical and Computational), Soft Sciences (Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, Political Science etc.) are also important for prosperity and peace in the world.
Man discovered fire about 1.6 million years ago, which changed the course of human existence on this planet. A new fire needs to be discovered for achieving the twenty-first-century mission for peace weith prosperity. The famous French Philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, said “Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire” This is the 21st century fire we need to discover – the fire of love for the other being as underlined by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
Therefore we would like to see a blend of soft and hard sciences as well as soft and hard scientists in a fitting manner as the problems we face today are too complex and multi-faced to be dealt with by a uni-disciplinary approach; they demand a multidisciplinary approach. Hence, we wish to see the disciplinary boundaries in the universities as well as in scientific institutions such as SLASS becoming more porous and permeable, providing for free diffusion of ideas, talents and resources across disciplinary boundaries. That will obviate in-breeding and ensure cross-fertilization producing new knowledge and technologies with ‘hybrid vigour’. We like to see, for instance musicians, physicists, psychologists and physicians making joint presentations on music therapy at SLASS annual sessions.
In our academic sessions, both at universities and other fora, science often dominates with technology as a mere appendage. In my opinion, technology ought to be given equal prominence and priority. Thus the scientific sessions in our fora may be replaced by S & T sessions. These are two random thoughts that came to my mind which I wish to present for consideration by the General President and the learned council members of the SLASS. With these brief observations, I will get down to the principle task assigned to me.

Since this great institution was founded in 1945, it has had 68 General Presidents including 5 female Presidents. As Bart Giamatti, a past President of the Yale University, USA once said “Leadership is an essentially moral act, not, as in most management, a protective act. Leadership is an assertion of vision, not simply an exercise of style. It is the moral courage to assert a vision of the institution into the future, and the intellectual energy to persuade the culture of the wisdom and validity of that vision”

Professor Palawinnege Ruchira Tharangani Cumaranatunga, Senior Professor of Fisheries Biology and the founder Dean of the Faculty of Fisheries and Mariner Sciences & Technology, at the University of Ruhuna, who will shortly be installed at the helm of affairs of the SLASS as its General President for 2013, possesses such leadership qualities and attributes. Therefore it is with a sense of pride and gratification I stand here to introduce this imposing personality to this learned audience.
Born to parents of Mr. Dharshin Cumaranatunga (a Civil Engineer) and Mrs Grace Cumaranatunga, Ruchira is the second in the family of five children. Having received education at Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo, she entered the University of Kelaniya in May 1973 and read for a B.Sc. Special Degree in Zoology and graduated with a Second Class honours. She joined the Faculty of Science at University of Ruhuna as Probationary Assistant Lecturer in Zoology in 1978 and secured a Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship in 1982 to read for a doctoral degree at the University of Ashton in the UK which dealt with the “Ovarian Development of Rainbow Trout”.

After returning in 1986 with doctorate, she was promoted to the post of Senior Lecturer in the Department of Zoology where she carried out academic work and research under the tutelage of Emeritus Professor Sena de Silva. Following the establishment of the Department of Fisheries Biology, Dr. Ruchira Cumaranatunga took reins of this important department in 1990 from the founder Head of Prof. Sena de Silva, providing academic and administrative leadership. As the Head of this newly carved out Department, she put her heart and soul into it and worked with great dedication, devotion and distinction with the members of her discipline as a cohesive team in further strengthening and expanding its academic and research programmes. Among her many noteworthy contributions to the Department of Fisheries Biology in particular and the University of Ruhuna in general, the close links she developed with SIDA/SAREC stand out loud and clear. Through funds secured from SIDA/SAREC exceeding Rs. 500 million, she made an inestimable contribution to the University of Ruhuna by providing postgraduate training to the staff, strengthening laboratory facilities and supporting high impact research in Fisheries Biology and allied field and providing a high speed campus-wide ICT network.

She has been literally married to Fisheries Biology and wedded to improving the academic atmosphere, intellectual climate and physical environment of the University of Ruhuna. She has been the recipient of several prestigious fellowships including the Fulbright Senior Research Scholarship and Commonwealth Fellowship tenable at the University of Hawaii and the National University of Singapore, respectively. Her relentless passion, tenacious determination and unwavering commitment indisputably made an immense contribution to the advancement of the Department of Fisheries Biology, facilitating its transformation into to a full-fledged Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences and Technology 2005. As the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ruhuna from 2001-2007, I had the treat of witnessing the blossoming of this Faculty under her able and visionary leadership, the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, thereby making the University of Ruhuna unique in the higher education landscape of the country.

In addition to institution building and attracting substantial research funds, Dr. Cumaranatunga has dedicated herself to research in Fisheries Biology and allied fields. She has over 80 publications to her credit and was installed Professor of Fisheries Biology in 1999. As an accomplished researcher and scientist and a Professor in Fisheries Biology, her contributions transcended the boundaries of the university to make a significant impact on many institutions such as NASTEC, SLASS, NSF, NARA etc.) and in many spheres such as R & D, S & T, Science education, popularization of science, environment etc. Currently, she serves as a member of a multitude of high-powered national committees contributing to advancement of science and national development. She also served as a key member of the Sri Lankan delegation that negotiated with the Indian counterparts regarding the much controversial Sethu Samudram Canal Project. In recognition of her outstanding contribution in the realm of education, she received the Zonta Award in 2006 from the Zonta Club of Colombo which felicitates outstanding women in the country.
Prof. Ruchira Cumaranatunga’s contributions in the spheres of education, science, research, environment and development spanning over a period 35 years have been truly remarkable. Her outstanding calibre, intellectual integrity, intrepidity, and passionate commitment to science coupled with her verve and vitality will afford a new dimension, direction and momentum to the SLASS, taking it to a new high. It is my honour to introduce her as the General President of the SLASS in 2013.

Please welcome Professor Ruchira Cumaranatunga as the General President of the Sri Lanka Association of the Advancement of Science.

Professor Ranjith Senaratne
Vice-Chairman, UGC

 

 

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