A brick for science: Giving with a purpose!
Monday, January 18th, 2016

Not a minute perhaps pass in our Isle of Serendib without hearing about a demand. Voices of all strengths appear to unite in one activity – clamouring for one benefit or another. Similarly there appears to be another band of people who wants to appease at any cost for such demands. Both power and poverty sing in unison.

SLINTECSLINTEC                  Californian-Science-Centre-(2)

Californian Science Centre                 Californian-Science-Centre

Californian Science Centre                   sdsd SLINTEC’s brick for science program wall                  

Not a minute perhaps pass in our Isle of Serendib without hearing about a demand. Voices of all strengths appear to unite in one activity – clamouring for one benefit or another. Similarly there appears to be another band of people who wants to appease at any cost for such demands. Both power and poverty sing in unison.

Starting from homes and ending at the highest office, or from a tiny kitchen to a board room of blue chips, this tug-o-war with demands, concessions and appeasement appear to be the order of the day. After espousing a set of principles, hopefully with the right intentions, a bout of directed opposition takes all good intentions in a different direction.

Then there would be the announcement of meeting a majority of the demands and then the assurance the rest too are only a meeting away. We all listen to a message which says that everything is all right and that the system is really strong as a result of the discussion and compromise. Such a statement made when all incomes have turned into expenditures only baffles the simple minded.

Our society appears to be interested only in today and perhaps tomorrow. How can one change them to think about the future? How can one influence the society to behave in a way that is better for the individual and for all in general?
Better decisions

Waking up to a new law and a directive appears to be an anathema for most of us. Can a more gentle inducement work where the change is driven through the individual by getting the need to change be generated from within? How do you gently ‘nudge’ citizens towards better decisions?

Planner or a decision maker taking a decision is insufficient where the democracy is at work and widely differing intelligence levels are all brought down to one level of measurement. This gentle jostling is managed through the widespread adoption of behavioral sciences to aid and inform policy making.

Coupled with this scenario planning this may be a vital necessity within our corridors of power. Consider providing extra buses during festival times. However it may be of interest to note that lightening strikes too may take place during such periods which is a behavioural aspect. We may still not be aware whether farmers are happy to have a subsidy or a guarantee price or both. We may end up doing both at significant expense and with little gain. There would not be any communication that what we are doing is unacceptable and should not be practiced.

Our communication may be a one of triumph extolling virtues on the unwavering leadership on looking after the needy. The end result is a system destined to decline and a one reduced to count foreign reserves in terms of the capability to sustain how many months of purchases. The impossibility of such negative practices needs to be communicated and a receptive and a change-ready mindset created. It is not only those in poverty that needs to embrace such change. Those who have money still appear to like the permit! The permit and license mentality is quite pervasive.
Behavioural economics
This is behavioural science where the fundamentals come from behavioural economics. This stream of economics is different from the standard economics. While standard economics believes in rational choices the norm in behavioural economics is that irrationality or the irrational decision making to be the more dominant. This begs such irrational behaviors to be factored into the decision making process and the modern day tendency to actually implement with accommodating such concepts.

There is the challenge of nudging too much or understanding the right way of doing that. Some may actually not like such an approach as it may be construed as government engaged in mind bending exercises in getting their way with people.

In the light of this we hear of a program which is different and one which emulates what other societies have known for many years and with guaranteed results. I remember one day in Cambridge waking up to hear that a college (Wolfson College) had received a massive sum of money from the last will of a Norwegian businessman.

Such situations are not rare in those parts of the world. There are many who donate without any identification – unknown benefactors. Giving without naming an act which is quite enriching is a concept that is yet to emerge and that certainly is another level of behavior at this stage for us. In a society perhaps where ‘Dana’ is a well known term and an acknowledged meritorious act, we still like to see our name on print and the recitation of the name over a microphone even with a simple task of giving a donation to pay the electricity bill of a temple.

We even witness situations where one exhorts money and then donate in one’s name – interesting isn’t it? Much harder is enticing someone to donate for the cause of science. Giving to science is a distant dream and what can turn tables for our economy is basically kept dry.

 

SLINTEC ‘brick for science’
The Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) has initiated a program of endowments and donations. The program is now present and had been in operation for some time and one is not seeing a situation of opened floodgates! While endowments are significant and important, individuals may not be able to by themselves to carry out an endowment which may be left to corporates. Now individuals do have a choice of ‘brick for science’.

In the SLINTEC scheme a brick amounts to a million rupees. This is enabling a vision of innovating for Sri Lanka brick by brick – a million by million. The strength of a character may be that if someone throws bricks at you, the ability to build walls or lay the foundation from the bricks thrown at you. Here the ability is to harness the kind generosity of an individual and the aggregate of positive acts enabling laying a foundation for a stronger tomorrow. It is important to realise that the Government cannot totally foot the bill of an advanced technology initiative especially when the pot of money is only barely sufficient to pay the interest on loans, salaries and foot the subsidies!

Starting from a 50:50 basis, with equal investments from the State and the private sector today SLINTEC has benefitted from significant Government investments which may be around Rs. 2 billion worth. Yet when one considers a state-of-the-art research environment this is still insufficient and additional funds are necessary. This is where the brick-for-science is a useful crowd sourcing philanthropy. It is important for the individuals to know and feel the cause for which the bricks are exchanged. For SLINTEC, former banker Nihal Fonseka had led the way in this regard.
Innovative crowd sourcing mechanisms
One may say that in pursuit of science and knowledge led growth, one may not be able to identify the limit for an investment.

Take the case of California, a state of the United States, ultra-rich in its own right. One can walk into an informal education centre such as a Science Centre in California and you can see innovative crowd sourcing mechanisms – as I indicated earlier rich Western society’s philanthropic activities in these directions are not rare. In the picture you see how they entice well-wishers to part with their money for a good cause.

Managing these informal education spaces is not easy and certainly not cheap. Modern science centres are both technically and visually rich. They do also support variety with exhibits where the dynamism commands investments. As such systems cannot be maintained only through ticket sales generosity of the masses are required. The generosity is driven through the understanding of importance of such informal education systems. It is that giving for a meaningful existence that we need to inculcate within ourselves and systems.

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[The writer is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is the Project Director of COSTI (Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation), which is a newly established State entity with the mandate of coordinating and monitoring scientific affairs. He can be reached via email on ajith@cheng.mrt.ac.lk.]

– See more at: http://www.ft.lk/article/519038/A-brick-for-science–Giving-with-a-purpose-#sthash.xe1z2MJL.dpuf

Space to dream and a place to deliver
Monday, November 25th, 2013

It is a view that brings out a question to the mind – a tall structure reaching to the sky from quite a green surrounding, when you come down to Mahenwatta, Pitipana at Homagama.
When President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared open the Nanotechnology andScience Park (NSP) along with the Nanotechnology Centre of Excellence (NCE) at Pitipana, Homagama on 21 October 2013, it was a watershed event. The declaration was a culmination of a series of events and activities that had span over almost eight years from some insightful thinking to forceful action buttressed with committed inputs.
It was the President himself who submitted the original Cabinet memorandum which resulted in a National Nanotechnology Initiative way back in 2005. Then the Government pledged around Rs. 5 billion from State funds to realise Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC). Though this pledge in its entirety is yet to happen, significant investments have come over the years, thus enabling the momentum to be kept.

Space to dream
Dhara Wijayatilake, Secretary to Ministry and Technology and Research, in her welcome remarks during the opening ceremony of the Science Park stated that this indeed is ‘space to dream’. How true.
The structure is picture perfect and the interior is a haven for researchers – definitely a dream for many perhaps till that day! At this stage there is no other similar setup in Sri Lanka to supportresearch and development and this investment made primarily by the Government cannot be rivalled either.
This is an investment by the Government which is very much different to those visible these days. This significant contribution by the State and the efforts by the private sector in ensuring on budget, on time project management have resulted in an iconic scientific establishment.
The park management and the management of SLINTEC are by the private sector in accordance with the articles of association and related efficiencies established from the first day onwards continue. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) upon which SLINTEC had been built and operated can be identified to be a unique mechanism that had been enshrined into the SLINTEC board of management and its way of work.


Nanotechnology journey
Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the lead pioneer for the NNI, recently writing about the National Nanotechnology Initiative to a Sunday paper and its beginning wrote the following: “Sri Lanka’s nanotechnology journey has been an arduous one, with many twists and turns, and many people helped to take the process forward, while some even obstructed. I shall make mention of a few key players to whom the whole country is indebted. After I became the Minister of Science and Technology in 2004, I discussed with Prof. Sirimali Fernando, the new Chairperson of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the need for developing our capability in advanced technologies.
“We thought first of biotechnology, which had just taken off in Sri Lanka. But she drew my attention to nanotechnology which was an emerging technology in which we could be a leader as few countries had tapped it and only 17 countries had national nanotechnology programs at that time. We had expertise among Sri Lankans here and abroad, and as it was cross-cutting it would help our progress in other high tech areas too. With the help of the National Science Foundation, a Task Force was set up. With the Board of the NSF, taking the observations of the Nanotech Taskforce, a National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was drafted.”
This was the beginning in a nutshell as per the Senior Minister and hope the story in its entirety would be written one day as we pay too much of lip service to quite old Harvard review papers at times in our multitude of MBA classes.
Well, when we did not have stories to tell, there is nothing much one can do except use those of others, but today the situation is different.

Public-Private Partnership
The enthusiasm and the passion of the original team led to the President submitting the National Nanotechnology Initiative as a Cabinet paper on and his original commitment and the farsightedness in trusting in a new and an emerging area was indeed quite commendable. The times were not easy times either in those days.
The process culminated in a Public-Private Partnership which was considered as one of the best examples of this nature by a visiting World Bank Consultant Dr. R. Mashelkar in his World Bank publication. The PPP became a reality with a vocal rejoinder by Brandix’s Ashroff Omar when the gauntlet for private sector commitment was thrown up by the Treasury.
The PPP juggernaut marched on from 2008 and the first nanotechnology lab was established at the basement of MAS’s Silueta factory at Biyagama EPZ thanks to an excellent ‘going beyond’ gesture by Mahesh Amalean of MAS.

 

New way forward
Nanotechnology is all about the power of the small and atoms and their manipulations are at the heart of the nano revolution. If some of the small atoms had destiny written on them, the Sri Lankan Nanotechnology Initiative is indeed an example of some atoms aligning to create a new way forward for Sri Lanka.
It is to the credit of political establishment that though portfolios changed and others moved in, the establishment of the Nanotechnology and Science Park continued unabated – the momentum did not die nor did the direction waver. The presence of a PPP would have helped in some way, yet this political correctness needs to be acknowledged.
The journey is not only about developing real estate but real scientific advances with commercial significance and there were many who questioned the internal abilities in that direction. SLINTEC passed a milestone on 15 March 2013 when the first intellectual property sale generated through local research took place. It was a sale to an Indian company and the value of US$ 3.1 million was an eye-opener.
As I wrote in a DFT column at the time, while the event was an opening event of a strategic agreement between an Indian company and SLINTEC, the event did unfold a closing argument – can research yield something of significance and an opening to climb up internationally with nanotechnology in a local setting?
The sceptics were not only in planning and the Treasury but were out there in the scientific establishment too – fortunately not too many. It was this question that was answered quite emphatically on that day. This particular project has made some interesting strides since then and the IP is today protected across all continents in 17 countries and that stems from the potential value of this product innovation.
The innovation is on nitrogen management and we have being slow in reaping benefits of this innovation though we have bestowed accolades. Sri Lanka should understand the value of IP and its potential to the economy and the new Science Park will facilitate this process too.

 

SLINTEC at Homagama
SLINTEC at Homagama – iconic yes! However, it has to be a place that delivers too. The team within has to have the mission clear. Team SLINTEC perhaps is unique for a Sri Lankan institution with the best ratio of science to admin manpower. With an unparalleled investment, the return has to be shown which can come only via innovation.
SLINTEC working in frontier areas has the potential to position at least some of our industries in a class of their own, if the research to economic input mandate is well understood. The new park is not another place to do research and spend time and only results will be counted. Research papers yes, but more important are products!
Teams with passion have changed many a landscape. Be it the team US that responded to place a man on moon upon a political challenge to ‘Hot teams’ at IDEO – one of the world’s top design houses who did the mouse for Steve Jobs and many, many more, it has been teams that did matter at the end. Passion and purpose had been the drivers.

 

Passion and purpose

In Sri Lankan science, passion with purpose has been lacking. We have carried out research. The developments are not seen that much. The establishment had rarely challenged science; nor has it really asked for delivery though complaints about lack of delivery have been heard. Teams perhaps did not gel as purpose had not been mooted.
The Science Park is different. Investment had been direct. The purpose has been made quite clear. It is up to the team within. They have plenty of space to dream and a well-equipped place to deliver. I dare say that the State should not consider that their work is over. Much more needs to be done and together these need to be achieved. As for the performance now from the team SLINTEC, the nation awaits.
[The writer is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is the Project Director of COSTI.

(Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation), which is a newly established State entity with the mandate of coordinating and monitoring scientific affairs. He can be reached via email on ajith@cheng.mrt.ac.lk.]

 

 

President opens first ever Nanotechnology and Science park & Nanotechnology Centre of Excellence
Saturday, October 26th, 2013

President Mahinda Rajapaksa  opened Sri Lanka’s first ever Nanotechnology and Science Park (NSP) and Nanotechnology  Centre of Excellence in Homagama on 21, October 2013 at Pitipana, Homagama, marking a milestone in the national strategy that envisions taking Sri Lanka towards upper middle income country status.

The Sri Lankan economy is one step closer to joining the technological revolution taking place in the rest of the world, President Rajapaksa said, as he inaugurated the centre. He said the facility marked an important milestone in taking Sri Lanka towards becoming Asia’s ‘Knowledge Hub’ and an opportunity to serve the country’s future generations. NSP provides for the creation of an environment and systems which will deliver a unique transformation towards wealth creation through advancement in science and technology whilst offering significant opportunities to nurture young entrepreneurs in the pursuit of scientific discovery.

IMG_0060aMinister of Science and Technology  Champika Ranawaka said the new Nanotechnology Park provided a great opportunity to make the leap into the technology age.  “In terms of technology and in terms of  resources, Sri Lanka was ahead of Asia 250 years ago,” the Minister said. This changed when the industrial revolution happened and the advantage shifted to Europe, he said. “Today marks the beginning of a new industrial revolution,” the Minister said at the opening. “This new revolution involves innovations, creativity and new inventions,” he said. Nanotechnology has a direct impact on developing a knowledge economy, Minister Ranawaka said. He said the new Nano Technology Centre for Excellence would be a great impetus for small and medium sized enterprises. The Minister said the new centre was a successful collaboration between the Government and private sectors. The Government has invested more than Rs. 2 billion while six private companies have cumulatively invested Rs. 310 million. The establishment of the NSP is an outcome of Sri Lanka’s Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which seeks to contribute towards knowledge-based economy. NSP is an initiative of SLINTEC, a public-private partnership between the Government of Sri Lanka and five private companies, namely, Brandix, Dialog, Hayleys, Loadstar and MAS Holdings.  A  6th equity partner Lankem has joined as of September 2013.  Its mandate is to add value to the Sri Lankan industries by helping them to contribute to the GDP through innovations in nanotechnology and advanced technologies. Senior Minister Prof. Tissa Vitarana, Deputy Minister of Civil Aviation Geethanjana Gunewardane, Secretary to the Ministry of Science and Technology Ms. Dhara Wijethillake, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) Deshamanya Dr. Mahesh Amalean, Chief Executive Officer Mr. Harin de Silva Wijeyeratne and several other officials from the Government and private sector participated in the opening ceremony.

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Commencing Operations of the Sri Lanka’s First Titanium Dioxide Pilot Plant…
Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The first ever Sri Lankan own Titanium Dioxide Pilot Plant commenced operations on 21 August , 2013 at Nanotechnology Park, Pitipana, Homagama. This is a collaborative project between Laugfs  Holdings Limited and SLINTEC. The complete  project is handling  by SLINTEC engineering team and it is a fully automated and computer controlled plant .

Mr W. K. H. Wegapitiya – Group Chairman, Laugfs Holdings,   Mr U. K. Thilak De Silva – Group Managing Director,  Laugfs Holdings,   Mr. Ashan De Silva – Chief Executive Officer, LAUGFS Gas PLC,  Mr Harin de Silva Wijeyeratne – Chief Executive Office, SLINTEC,  Prof. Gehan Amaratunga – Chief of Research & Innovation, Mr Ananda Hettiarachchy – Head of Process & Engineering Systems,   Prof. Veranja Karunaratne – Science Team Leader, SLINTEC , Science team members of SLINTEC and some officials from Laugfs Holdings were also present at this occasion.
 TiO2 PLANT OPENING
Visit of Hon. Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka & Hon. Minister Bandula Gunawardena
Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Hon. Patali Champika Ranawaka ,  Minister of Technology & Research, Hon. Bandula Gunawardana , Minister of Education, Ms Dhara Wijetilake – Ministry Secretary of Ministry of  Technology & Research together with some ministry officials visited to inspection of the Nanotechnology Centre of Excellence (NCE) & park construction progress on 17th June 2013 at  Pitipana, Homagama. SLINTEC Chairman Deshamanya  Dr. Mahesh Amalean , Mr. Asela Gunawardana, CEO-SLINTEC, Mr. Harin De Silva Wijeyeratne newly appointed CEO to SLINTEC, Prof. Gehan Amaratunga – Chief of Research & Innovation at SLINTEC, Mr Ananda Hettiarachchy – Head of Process & Engineering Systems at  SLINTEC , Two Science Team Leaders Prof. Veranja Karunaratne & Prof, Nalin De Silva together with some SLINTEC officials were also joined at this occasion.

Minister Champika's visit to nanoscience park

Chairman’s visit…
Thursday, February 14th, 2013

SLINTEC Chairman Deshamanya  Dr. Mahesh Amalean together with Mr. Asela Gunawardana, CEO-SLINTEC and some officials from SLINTEC visited to Nanotechnology Park site on  21, November 2012, to see the progress of construction work .