Prof. Veranja Karunaratne
Professor Veranja Karunaratne is an outstanding, internationally recognized leader in chemical sciences research, particularly organic synthesis, natural products Chemistry, biodiversity and taxonomy of lichens, industry relevant Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, where he has made significant and ground breaking contributions with a lasting impact.
His research is typified by thoroughness, timeliness and excellence, contributing to overarching societal issues in the developing world with an imprint of international excellence thereby advancing the existing boundaries. Importantly, he pioneered research into lichen chemistry and helped revive lichen taxonomy in Sri Lanka. Prior to his studies, Sri Lanka, although a biodiversity hotspot, was not known for high lichen diversity; in addition, there were no trained lichenologists in the country.
For the past two decades, he and later his students have organized five national workshops on lichens collaborating with the Natural History Museum, U.K carrying out country wide surveys of the lichen diversity. These studies have made it evident that the lichen diversity of endemics and known species, is as high as the flowering plants. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most important biodiversity revelations to emerge from the region in recent times. For his pioneering efforts in lichenology he was honoured by his collaborators and protégés by naming a lichen species new to science, Arthonia karunaratnei after him.In addition, he is a recognized pioneer in nanoscience and nanotechnology research.
In 2008, he was appointed as the first Science Team Leader of Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC). Here, he contributed immensely to the initial development of the new institute which today stands as centre of excellence. In an outcome of great significance, he led a group of scientists who patented three innovations related to a nanofertilizer in the USPTO which substantially saves the amount of urea used in agriculture.
A global search report at the PCT stage highlighted that these innovations were a “global first” with practically no prior art. This “smart agriculture” solution was transferred to an Indian fertilizer company marking the first technology sale in nanotechnology from Sri Lanka. Significantly, this technology is now patented in many rice producing countries. These efforts encouraged the Government to invest substantially more money into its national nanotechnology effort by locating SLINTEC in a 50 acre Nanoscience & Technology Park. His enormous contribution and dedication to Chemistry Education and Research was exemplified by him holding dual appointments during these years, both as a Senior Professor of Chemistry at the University of Peradeniya and as Science Team Leader, Associate Director, Science and Strategic Relations at SLINTEC.
He has made a seminal contribution to chemistry education as an undergraduate and post graduate teacher in Organic Chemistry for over three decades and has supervised and guided 16 PhD and 10 M.Phil students. He has published over 150 research papers in peer reviewed journals and is the inventor of over 50 patents and applications, many of which are international. For his contributions to Sri Lankan Science he was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2005. He has also been distinguished as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2010.
He was recognised by the Government of France by bestowing him Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight of the Order of Academic Palms (Awarded by the Government of France) in 2012. As the officer-in-charge of patent filing at SLINTEC, he is guiding its IP management. This role by him is considered highly important firstly because SLINTEC remains a rare R & D venture in Sri Lanka which is dedicated to the sale of technology in nano and advanced technology to the industry and secondly because Sri Lanka has understood the role and the value of IP in its emergence as a high middle income country in a decade or so.
Two years ago SLINTEC acceded to a request made by the Government to train the next generation research leaders for the future within the country as a means of not only reducing brain drain but also to channel the in house trained PhDs to contribute towards national development. This has led to the establishment of the SLINTEC ACADEMY which is a private, not-for-profit MPhil and PhD degree awarding institute. In a fitting tribute to his long years of dedication to science research and dissemination, he was appointed as its first Vice Chancellor in 2017.
He has received numerous honours and awards for his role as a Professor and a researcher. He was a visiting Professor in the Department of Chemistry, University of British Columbia, Canada from 2004 until 2014. Marking a giant leap in natural products research dissemination in Sri Lanka and Asia, he was the Chair and main organizer of the sixteenth Asian Symposium in Medicinal Plants, Spices and Other Natural products (ASOMPS). ASOMPS XVI, a 59 year old conference in Asia, held from 12-14 Dec. 2018 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, not only helped revitalize natural products research within Sri Lanka by assembling over 220 Sri Lankan Scientists under one roof in over forty years but also became the gathering of numerous foreign scientists from the region.