Category Archives: Science in Sri Lanka

#lka Social Innovation ideas for the Sri Lankan Government Service – Part 1

One of the new trends in Sri Lanka is for many politicians to talk about innovation economy. I always wondered whether they know what they are talking about. Anyway, I still am glad that even not knowing the full context, these two words are being discussed. Innovation economy is a concept where entrepreneurship and innovation are given prominence. In my opinion the Sinhala translation of the word innovation “නවෝත්පාදනය” may not capture the full concept of the word but since I am not an expert of languages, I will stay out of commenting on it any further.

I recently with my team looked at few concepts of innovation. Though they have been doing this for little over two years now, looking back at these concepts helped me to think about these concepts in a different point of view. One of the main concepts of innovation is to think from the customer’s point of view. In other words empathizing with customers. To state simply this is to understand a problem from the people who are facing it and devising solutions for those problems. The word customer has a broader meaning in this case. It is anyone, one is dealing with for example, your boss, your employee, you parents, teachers, friends, etc.

The first idea of this post occurred in my head on the 3rd of April when my Peradeniya University batch mates had a get together. Many of my batch mates specially females are now teaching in schools in Kandy area. When talking to them few of them mentioned a well known issue of closing the road next to the Dalada Maligawa and how it has affected their travelling and travelling time to their respective schools. That same day while driving back to Colombo, I was thinking about this problem. Road closing or opening is a decision of some government agency (regional/national). This agency (I assume attached to either the Ministry of Highways or the Ministry of Internal Transportation) decided to keep the road closed. Let’s leave out the reason for a moment. The customers of this government agency would be the people like my batch mates who has to use that road. Roads might also have safety and environmental issues related to it too. In such a situation those relevant agencies should look at from their customers point of views too. For a person who only read the related issues on news papers (very little is written anyway about this), it seems like this agency is only looking at this problem from the point of view of politicians and religious leaders.

I have been at the receiving end of few fines for minor rules violations while driving. I am not complaining about the tickets but as a customer  who would like to pay the fines on time, the hassle one has to go through for paying fines is something I could not agree to. First you have to go to the Police station to pick up one form, then have to go to the post office to pay for it, then bring the receipt back to the police station to pick up the driving licence. Sometimes to pay a LKR 500 ticket, one has to lose few hours of work and spend nearly LKR 300 of additional money of tuk tuks. Overall economics of paying the fine does not make any sense. As the postal mail is a dying business in the 21st century, coming up with an internet based payment system for all the government related payments happening through post office might help saving the postal service a little bit longer. Additionally, the necessary changes to the law should also accompany, so that the policemen do not have to keep the driving licences. The unpaid fines with interest could be linked to the revenue licence renewal at the end of the year. This will lead to higher collection of fines, less wasting of time of everyone involved, less bribing of Police officers and actually catching the culprits who break the law. In this case all the government agencies and law makers should focus more on their customers (we the general public) but less on balancing each other.

There are many other ideas, will keep on writing if time and life permit. For the moment this will be stopped here as this note is getting too long and boring to read.

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Filed under Colombo, Future, Government Service, Industries of Sri Lanka, Innovation, My experiences, Politics, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Society, Sri Lanka

#lka Make the right kind of Scientists Happy, they will make the whole Sri Lanka happy

I finished a Chemistry special degree with first class honors at the University of Peradeniya and I found a placement for a PhD at the University of Arizona. After finishing a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the ranked 5 university for Analytical Chemistry in USA, I went to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for my postdoctoral training. Some of my colleagues and my bosses of the PhD are on Facebook too. After joining my PhD research group I was given a grant code. Anything I want for research I could fill a form get my boss’s signature and order. If I want them quickly like overnight, I could get them quickly too. Additionally the chemistry department of University of Arizona had a chemical store room. Many of the heavily used chemicals and supplies were available there. You can walk in, find it on which shelf from the catalogue, walk upto the shelf, pick up however many you want, write on the logbook on your way out with that same grant code. That was the process. No one to monitor me.

After moving to CMU, my situation was upgraded. There I was given  Credit Card with the limit of $5000. I was allowed to order anything I needed for my research up to $1000 without even consulting my boss. I was not allowed to order instruments. There were days I used to read papers in the morning & by about 2 pm I order new chemicals. Next day morning it was next to my office door. So for the next few days/weeks I get lost in experiments. Once a month I had to do reconciliation with the departmental secretary of the things I ordered. It was so easy to be a scientist when people around you trusted you. So I quit my job at CMU and decide to move to Sri Lanka to be that happy scientist.

I joined a scientific institution of Sri Lanka. There were very new instruments. Some of them I have used, some were new to me, some of which I used to build from scratch for the CHEM 528 class at Arizona. I was not allowed to use any of them until I get the training from the very talented electrical engineer with a BSc. I had a condition, I will get trained by anyone who could answer my questions about why I should press which ever the button he/she wanted me to press. Only because I did not want to be trained monkey pressing buttons. So my training never happened. I was not allowed to order any chemicals. It was also taken cared of by the same electrical engineer. He was cheek and tongue friends with the chemical supplier companies. Even when a new instrument was ordered same company used to get the order most of the times. Even if there was a better quotation that was matched by that company by next day. When overseas equipment training came they came with names attached. Those names belonged to the ones who were good friends with that same talented young engineer. I asked around why I had to get trained from him. Some people told me that he was one of the few who got training for those equipment. Some people also told me when the training was in Japan he disappeared for 2 days. I don’t know how true those are. One thing I can tell is that happy scientist who thought of doing some innovations for the country died because now he doesn’t have any freedom to order any chemical or any supplies unless that young multi-talented electrical engineer and his friends at certain companies say yes. They also say minimum delivery time is 6 weeks. That actually happens only if you are lucky.

Sometimes after 6 weeks you have a different idea. That’s how scientist minds work. Ideas come sometimes non-stop but sometimes like writers block, it takes a break. It is not something to controlled by an external person and his friends. I know how to find my happiness. So I did but I can guarantee there are many unhappy scientists in Sri Lanka. If as a country we could find a way to make the right kind of scientists happy, they will make the whole country happy. Be aware every scientist is also not created equally. You need to be able to find the right kind of scientist.

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Filed under My experiences, Office politics, Science in Sri Lanka

Why Sri Lanka needs an Emerging Technology Advisory Center?

It might be an island thing. Though in many ways the world has shrunk, most of our people still live in a 19th to 20th century world. In news media, many examples of such incompatibilities are apparent. In industry, in universities and in the country as a whole many invisible incompatibilities exist. One may say that it is a language issue, but I beg to differ. It is not just among the rural Sri Lankan, but also among the English speaking Colombo crowd too. In the last 30 years or so the development of technology and the engagement of people from all over the world have made the world shrink.

In my view the biggest development happened in the computer technology (in both hardware and software fronts). In the hardware front it has made the computers available for individual usage even on the go (40 years ago they were bulky, expensive and in 1977 the president, chairman and the founder of DEC corporation USA, Ken Olson famously said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home”). In the software front they have become very user friendly, figured out their glitches and become fashionable, manageable and less intimidating.

Secondly, making use of the above developments the World Wide Web (the internet) has made it a connected world, which now has nearly 3 billion users. As of the end of 2013, 39 percent of the world population is connected to the WWW and nearly half of them lives in Asia. The number of users in Asia is more that of both Europe and North America put together. Google X, a company associated with the internet giant Google Corporation, is planning on making internet available for the whole world within the next year. They have been testing high altitude balloon powered internet for more than a year now. They even bought a wind power generator company to provide power to these balloons.

With above advancements a myriad of internet-related services, social media networks, software developers, data analysts, and related industries have seen a massive growth. In addition, all these developments have affected areas such as genetics and biotechnology, chemistry, physics, marketing, production, medicine and pharmaceuticals, delivery services, banking and finance, transportation, lodging, logistics, economics, politics, etc. Parallel to all these some other technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, green technology came into the field as organized technological fronts.

If one has studied the industrial revolution in 18th to 19th century, it wouldn’t be hard to understand that we may be going through another such historic event at present. Unfortunately, some of the industrial revolution related events such as agricultural revolution is not yet complete in Sri Lanka. Leaving the past aside we may be able to create a new opportunity this time around if we organize ourselves as one unit. One of the biggest reasons demanding this level of organization is the fact that current policy makers, officials and business leaders belong to the generation prior to the beginning of this strategic inflection point.

I did not intend any disrespect to them but we all have to admit that the current younger generation is far savvier with these new technologies and the decisions we all are making is going to affect their world. If we can collectively setup a platform for them to thrive, Sri Lanka will be a different place in the future.

What would be the makeup and the mandate of such an organization? I think it should be funded  and represent both the public and the private sector with people who are current in the technological knowledge in a variety of fields. This organization should look into the technologies which could bring strategic advantage of upcoming technologies to the country as a whole and advise the relevant industries and public officials. Additionally, they should create awareness among the general public and the potential users. The existing organizations such as NSF, MOTR, and CoSTI, all suffer from the above shortcomings.

This is not to devalue what they are doing currently. All these organizations are doing a fantastic job on advising and popularizing the existing technologies but I am talking about technologies such as Synthetic Biology, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, etc. I am talking about suggesting upgrades of payment systems of simple things like a traffic fine at the point of offence if the person is accepting the violation, without affecting the revenue streams of both the postal services as well as the Police. I am talking about preventing the obsoleteness of horses felt after the first industrial revolution.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/free/item/33875-why-sri-lanka-needs-an-emerging-technology-advisory-center.html#sthash.TMMdExkd.dpuf

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Filed under Industries of Sri Lanka, Nanotechnology, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Society, Sri Lanka

Nanotechnology in construction industry

As we have discussed, nanotechnology has its tentacles in many of applications. In the Sri Lankan context, construction is not considered as a field where advance technologies such as nanotechnology could be applied, even though both here in Sri Lanka and in the world many researchers are involved in bringing the advantages of nanotechnology to construction. Concrete, one of the most used construction materials (made with cement as a binder), is considered the most carbon dioxide contributing material (material with the highest carbon footprint). Concrete production contributes five percent of the annual anthropogenic global carbon dioxide production, mainly because of the vast quantities used. Carbon dioxide contribution is mainly from the reactions occurring during the production of cement. There is already progress in improving properties on concrete at the nano-scale to address much of this problem – See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/free/item/30889-nanotechnology-in-construction-industry.html#sthash.RIeq1IJq.dpuf

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Filed under Future, Industries of Sri Lanka, Nanotechnology, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka

Nanotechnology: Collaboration is the name of the game

Nanotechnology is a field where collaboration of many areas of science, people and institutes is built into the core. Before exploring further into the science of nanotechnology, it would be beneficial to all those who read to explore all the surrounding aspects of nanotechnology. One of the reasons for the buzz around nanotechnology is the 2008 Lux Research forecast of $3.1 trillion market for nanotechnology related industry by 2015. According to those predictions Europe was supposed take the lead while USA and Asia to take second and third places respectively. Due to global economic slowdown and some concerns created around the safety of nanomaterials, this expected market growth never took place. The current assessment is that the nanotechnology will grow to be $49 billion market by 2017. – See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/free/item/30669-collaboration-is-the-name-of-the-game.html#sthash.lnqVvsh9.dpuf

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Filed under Nanotechnology, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka, Team work

Nanotechnology: Depleting the most precious minerals for a few dollars

Many have written for many years about the mineral sands of Pulmoddai. It is a national tragedy that for more than 50 years, we have been depleting the most precious minerals of our land for a few dollars. There are articles that appeared in various newspapers on how the mineral sands industry has boomed over the years. I hope the readers understand that it only means that we are depleting our resources faster than ever. According to the Lanka Mineral Sands Limited website, 90,000 tonnes of ilmenite, 9,000 tonnes of rutile, 5,500 tonnes of zircon, 100 tonnes of monazite and 4,000 tonnes of high titanium ilmenite are produced annually and shipped away to other countries. – See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/free/item/30419-nanotechnology-depleting-the-most-precious-minerals-for-a-few-dollars.html#sthash.CZCmITcc.dpuf

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Filed under Industries of Sri Lanka, Nanotechnology, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka

Nanotechnology:Carbon and its promise

Carbon is the sixth element of the periodic table. It also is the element that makes the chemical basis for softer biological materials (life) as well as the hardest material of the Mohsscale (The Mohs scale of mineral hardness characterizes the scratch resistance of various minerals through the ability of a harder material to scratch a softer material); diamond. Amorphous carbon and graphite are two other well-known allotropes (different forms of existence of an element) of carbon. In the recent past two Nobel prizes were awarded for carbon based nanomaterial. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1996 was awarded jointly to Robert F Curl Jr., Sir Harold W Kroto and Richard E Smalley ‘for their discovery of fullerenes’ and the Nobel Prize in Physics 2010 was awarded jointly to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.” – See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/free/item/30213-nanotechnology-carbon-and-its-promise.html#sthash.gbHSV9M0.dpuf

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Filed under Nanotechnology, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka