Queensland-based Sri Lankan professor receives $179 million for his innovations.

Associate Prof Udantha Abeyratne is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, USA, and a Member of the Australasian Sleep Disorders Association. His research expertise is in medical instrumentation and signal processing. He leads several research projects in developing algorithms and electronic implementations for diagnosing and treating sleep apnea and respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. Among the notable recent success in this area is a pioneering and fully automated technology to diagnose sleep apnea by the analysis of snoring (and breathing) sounds, wearable technology for the quantitative, real-time estimation of daytime sleepiness in work environments, and a unique automated technology for the diagnosis of childhood pneumonia in resource-poor regions of the world.  Associate Prof Abeyratne received the Bachelor’s degree from the University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, the Master’s degree from the University of Tokushima, Tokushima, Japan, both in electrical and electronic engineering, and a Ph.D. degree in biomedical engineering from Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA, in 1996. He is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Qld, Australia. 

A Brisbane-based company that invented a smartphone app it says can diagnose COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses by listening to someone cough has been purchased by Pfizer for nearly $180 million.ResApp Health Limited uses diagnostic technology developed by Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne and his research team at the University of Queensland (UQ) to record and analyze a patient’s coughs on a smartphone.

The app also considers the self-reporting of simple symptoms like a runny nose or fever to diagnose and measure the severity of a range of pulmonary diseases, including asthma and pneumonia. Pfizer, one of the world’s largest bio-pharmaceutical companies, offered to buy ResApp earlier this year when it announced positive results for its COVID-19 screening test.

Recent studies have shown that the app had a 92 percent success rate in diagnosing the virus among symptomatic patients, but more clinical trials were needed to gain regulatory approval. However, a Pfizer spokesperson said they were encouraged by the data they had seen so far, and the $179 million acquisition, finalized, was another move toward enhancing the company’s expertise in digital health.

His research interests include medical instrumentation and signal processing. Last two decades, he has been leading research programs developing unorthodox new technologies for diagnosing sleep apnea and respiratory diseases, such as childhood pneumonia. He is particularly interested in portable technologies that have applications worldwide, including in remote resource-poor regions. A/Prof. Abeyratne is a Member of the American Association of Sleep Medicine. 

A/Prof Abeyratne’s work has attracted funding from prestigious agencies such as the Australian Research Council (ARC) and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA. Research outcomes are currently being implemented on portable electronic devices and smart mobile phones. A/Prof Abeyratne is also active in new treatment devices for ultrasound imaging (medical and agricultural use), biomimetic technology for condition monitoring of transformers, and electrophysiological signal processing.

A/Prof Abeyratne confirmed that the smartphone technology, which was developed in consultation with medical practitioners, operates similarly to a doctor using a stethoscope to listen for sounds produced by a patient’s body. 

A Sri Lankan born Ranil Jayawardena appointed to British government as Member of Parliament

Ranil Malcolm Jayawardena, born in September 1986, is a British politician serving as Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs since 2022. He served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade from 2020 to 2022.

Ranil Jayawardena MP was first elected as the Member of Parliament for North East Hampshire in May 2015 and was re-elected in 2017 and 2019. Prior to his election to Parliament, he was a Councillor, serving as Deputy Leader of the Borough of Basingstoke and Deane. An alumnus of the London School of Economics, he combined his service in local Government with working for Lloyds Banking Group plc and is a Freeman of the City of London. He also has wide-ranging commercial experience in the pharmaceutical, construction, transport, and leisure sectors.

After his election in 2015, Ranil was quickly elected by fellow MPs to the Home Affairs Committee and, following the decision of the British people to leave the European Union, he was elected to the International Trade Committee too, where his continued focus is getting the best deal for British consumers and making a case for free trade.

Before serving as a Minister, Ranil was a Member of the International Trade, Home Affairs, Procedure, and Arms Export Controls Committees and was appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons to the Chairmans’ Panel. He also served as the Prime Minister’s Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Ranil attended local schools in Hampshire before the London School of Economics and, more recently, the Royal College of Defense Studies.

He likes watching cricket, tennis, and rugby in his spare time. He is a Freeman of the City of London and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). He lives in Bramley, north of his constituency, with his wife and two little daughters.

Michael Ondaatje, 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist for Fiction   

 Poet, novelist, and editor Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka in 1943. He lived in England as a child, and when he was 18, he moved to Canada. He earned a BA from the University of Toronto and an MA from Queens University. He has received many awards for his work, including two Governor’s General Awards and the Booker Prize for his novel, “The English Patient” (1992).

 In 2018 Michael Ondaatje was among five contenders for the title of greatest-ever winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction awarded by the Los Angeles Times. Ondaatje is one of Canada’s most important contemporary writers and one of the country’s significant cultural exports.

 Michael Ondaatje is the author of more than 20 works of poetry and fiction, including The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Running in the Family, Coming through Slaughter, In the Skin of a Lion, and The English Patient. He is the recipient of the Man Booker Prize, The Irish Times International Prize for Fiction, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, the Prix Médicis, the Governor General’s Award, and the Giller Prize. His work is known for complex narrative structures and musical prose that incorporates elements of myth, history, jazz, memoir, and other forms. 

 In addition to his literary writing, Ondaatje has been a vital force in “fostering new Canadian writing” with two decades of commitment to Coach House Press (around 1970–90) and his editorial credits on Canadian literary projects like the journal Brick, and the Long Poem Anthology (1979), among other.

 In the award-winning book “In Running in the Family” (1983), Ondaatje turns away from America and Canada to interrogate his life and family history by returning to Sri Lanka. Written shortly after visiting the country of his birth, the text, once more, blends different genres in a fragmentary collage of photographs, poems, and stories. 

 Ondaatje is also a filmmaker and creator of 3 documentary films in the 1970s. He currently lives in Canada and continues his writing, and his artistry and aesthetic have influenced an entire generation of writers and readers.

The Founder/CEO of Benchling left MIT at 22 to Solve a Problem Investors didn’t get, and now his company is Worth $6 Billion. 

Sajith Wickramasekara founded Benchling in 2012 as a digital version of a scientist’s lab notebook. A year later, when Wickramasekara appeared on the Forbes Under 30 list, the biotech R&D software startup had raised $6 million at a valuation of $17.5 million. Today Benchling has more than 600 customers, including Regeneron, Sanofi, and Syngenta. It is worth $6.1 billion following a recent financing round led by Franklin Templeton and Altimeter.

Wickramasekara was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. He attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and later entered college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At MIT, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. 

He worked as a research assistant during high school and realized R&D relied too heavily on pens and paper. So he built Benchling, now worth $6 billion and backed by over $400 million in VC funding.

Benchling is a software platform for scientists doing breakthrough research on biotherapeutics, biofuels, and biomaterials with techniques such as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) are the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology, and Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own genetically modified T cells to find and kill cancer. Over 140,000 across leading academic institutions and life science companies depend on the Benchling Life Sciences R&D Cloud to design DNA, collaborate on experiments, and make critical R&D decisions.

Since co-founding the company in 2012, Sajith has guided Benchling through remarkable growth. Today, more than 200,000 scientists at over 600 companies and 7,000 research institutions globally have adopted Benching’s R&D Cloud to make breakthrough discoveries and bring the next generation of medicines, food, and materials to market faster than ever.

Sri Lanka’s only Non-Emergency Service for Terminally ill Patients

Cyril Dharmawardana Foundation (CDF) is an Australian-based Non-Profit charity organization founded in 2013 in Sri Lanka by Binara Dharmawardana to provide transportation facilities for every single Cancer and other terminally ill patient at the time of their treatment. To enable a comfortable return and dignity without them getting exposed to infectious diseases when traveling on public transport. This is probably the only State of the art Non-Emergency Ambulance service dedicated to Cancer in the Developing World. 
This service is free of charge regardless of the patient’s travel distance. This facility currently operates in the Southern and North Central regions of Sri Lanka and in the main Cancer hospital in the Western Province of Colombo. With ongoing donor support, CDF plans to implement and extend this facility to other Cancer hospitals. CDF also contributes to a world leader in Cancer Research, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in Australia to find a cure for Cancer.

When renowned actor and public personality in Sri Lanka Cyril Dharmawardana, the father of Binara Dharmawardana was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, he was grateful to receive the best care in Australia. Having witnessed the sad disparity of medical facilities in Sri Lanka, he envisaged providing a service that gave dignity and comfort to the terminally ill patient during pain and suffering. A facility that extended a helping hand to underprivileged communities experiencing financial hardship due to deep-rooted poverty. Within a year of Cyril Dharmawardana’s sad passing in November 2013, his vision became a reality by initiating and creating the Cyril Dharmawardana Foundation.

Binara Dharmawardana and his CDF team had the privilege of attending the Royal Flying Doctor Service annual Gala event attended by elite philanthropists in Australia. Outstanding contributors to CDF in 2022 were invited to attend this event with some board members and a few executive committees. A magnificent event attended by the stars of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Television series & other dignitaries.

CDF’s dedication is an accomplishment of an initiative that fulfills a fundamental necessity for those in need. The absolute privilege of realization and contentment of making a difference in peo­ple lives is made possible by the founder Binara Dharmawardana who has given back so much to the Sri Lankan community and has created a positive change through his work over the years.

Sri Lanka’s Shehan Karunatilaka wins Booker Prize 2022 for afterlife thriller.

“The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida,” written by Shehan Karunatilaka, a supernatural satire set amid a murderous Sri Lankan civil war, has won the Booker Prize. The Sri Lankan writer’s novel is about a war photographer who wakes up dead, has “Seven Moons” to try and unravel the mystery surrounding his passing and aid in the disclosure of a collection of images that will shock war-torn Sri Lanka, and ask his friends to find his photos and expose the brutality of war.

The writer said he decided in 2009 to write “a ghost story where the dead could offer their perspective” after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, “when there was a raging debate over how many civilians died and whose fault it was.”

Camilla, the Queen Consort of the United Kingdom, presented the Prize, and the author said it had been “an honor and a privilege” to be on the shortlist. The prestigious award was GBP 50,000( British pounds) in prize money and a trophy. The other five writers on the shortlist were presented GBP 2,500 each.

Shehan Karunatilaka was born in Galle, Sri Lanka, in 1975; he grew up in Colombo, studied in New Zealand, and lived and worked in London, Amsterdam, and Singapore. He was educated at St Thomas’ Preparatory School, Kollupitiya, Sri Lanka, and Massey University, New Zealand.

In addition to his widely-acclaimed books, he has also written features on sports music and travel for the Guardian, Newsweek, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Wisden, the Cricketer, and the Economic Times. He has over 20 years of experience working for ad agencies, tech firms, media houses, start-ups, and multinationals across Singapore, London, Colombo, Sydney, and Amsterdam.

In an interview a few weeks before the Booker awards ceremony, Karunatilaka listed his five favorite Booker-winning or Booker-shortlisted novels: Lincoln in the Bardo, Cloud Atlas, The Handmaid’s Tale, Girl, and Woman.

His 2010 debut book, “Chinaman, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew,” which won the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize, launched the author onto the international literary scene. The DSL and Gratiaen Prize were won later, and Wisden ranked it the second-best cricket book of all time. The author’s first work was shortlisted for the Gratiaen written Prize in 2000 before his first book was published.

Chamath Palihapitiya, Financial Leader of Tomorrow

Chamath Palihapitiya is a highly-successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2021, he was ranked tenth on Forbes magazine’s new billionaires’ list.

Palihapitiya founded and is the CEO of Social Capital based in Silicon Valley, California, established in 2011 to invest in companies in fields being ignored by other venture capitalists, like health, financial services, and education. However, the firm has since expanded to invest in tech companies like Amazon, Tesla, and Slack. Before founding Social Capital, Palihapitiya served as Facebook’s (now Meta) vice president of operations in several capacities, including as a lead developer. He is credited with helping orchestrate the social media platform’s massive growth.

Palihapitiya was born in Sri Lanka in 1976 and moved to Ottawa, Canada as a child at age five. He received his Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo, resides in Northern California, is a basketball fan, and is a minority stakeholder and board member of the Golden State Warriors.

In 2018, Social Capital became mainly a permanent capital model and launched two notable purpose acquisition companies(SPAC) platforms, Social Capital Hedosophia and Social Capital Suvretta. These platforms were created to provide an alternative growth path for companies to go public while continuing to make public and private investments, with a broad focus on climate science, life sciences, crypto/decentralized finance, and deep tech.

In 2019, he sponsored a company that merged with Virgin Galatic, selling a large part of his stake for $200 million in March 2021. In addition, he continues to sponsor Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPAC) IPOs. He is known for his media appearances and active Twitter account, with 1.5 million followers as of June 17, 2022.

Palihapitiya raised six exceptional purpose acquisition companies (SPAC) in 2020, including one with Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson. He also invested in two companies going public via black-check vehicles in January, innovative lock maker Latch and solar lender Sunlight Financial. After taking Virgin Galactic public in 2019, in February 2022, Palihapitiya resigned from his position on the board of directors of Virgin Galactic, a space-tourism company.

Many of the new generations of business leaders shaping the future of the financial industry are in Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and Chamath Palihapitiya is a key leader and influencer among tomorrow’s financial leaders.

Professor Mohan Munasinghe, the 2021 Blue Planet Laureate, Receives Honors from Japanese Royalty

Professor Mohan Munasinghe, a Sri Lankan engineer, physicist, and economist specializing in energy, water resources, sustainable development, and climate change, was awarded the 2021 Blue Planet Prize, the top global environmental sustainability award “the Environmental Nobel Prize.”

Professor Munasinghe and Mrs. Sria Munasinghe attended the ceremonies for the Blue Planet Prize hosted by the Asahi Glass Foundation in Tokyo, where they were felicitated by Royalty and other grandees of Japan. The ceremony had been postponed to October 2022 due to the Covid Pandemic restrictions in 2021. The Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko of Japan granted Prof. Munasinghe and his wife an exclusive audience. In addition, they exchanged mutual felicitations with HRH Sonam Dechen Wangchuck, who attended the ceremony on behalf of her father, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan, the 2022 Blue Planet Prize laureate.

The award recognizes Prof. Munasinghe’s extensive environmental and sustainability research through his ground-breaking concepts, including the Sustainomics framework, sustainable development triangle, Millennium Consumption Goals (MCG), and balanced, inclusive green growth path (BIGG).

His work has influenced significant global accords like the 1992 Agenda 21 and UNFCCC, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the 2005 Copenhagen Accord, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, and UN 203the 0 Agenda & Sustainable development Goals. Prof. Munasinghe served as vice chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He has received the highest national accolades from the heads of five countries. Additionally, he serves as the President of the Presidential Expert Commission on the Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 Vision, an Honorary Senior Advisor to the Sri Lankan Government, and a Distinguished Guest Professor at Peking University I,n China.

Acquiring post-graduate degrees in engineering, physics, and development economics from Cambridge University (UK), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), McGill University, and Concordia University (Canada), Prof. Munasinghe has also won numerous honorary doctorates (honoris causa). In addition, his forty years of exemplary public service are embellished with eminent designations such as Senior Energy Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka, Advisor to the United States President’s Council on Environmental Quality (PCEQ), and Senior Advisor/Manager to the World Bank.

Third Book Announcement, “Inner Calm”, A Users Guide to 
Tranquility Meditation 

This book draws upon transcriptions of recordings at a retreat conducted by Venerable Mahathera Madawela Punnaji at the Providence Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (June 16-25, 2006). The book contains daily sutta-based discussions, guided meditation practices, Q & A sessions, participant sharing, and feedback over a nine-day residential retreat for seasoned and beginner meditators to serve as a user’s guide to Samatha practice. Since this meditation practice aims to enter the four levels of deep tranquility and also called Tranquility Meditation. Those who have become adept at tranquility meditation can proceed to the Seven Steps to Awakening which according to the author, is the real “Insight Meditation”.

The Editor, Dr Mahendra Wijayasinghe, Ph.D. was a close friend and student of Bhante Punnaji. For over three decades, Venerable Punnaji was an annual visitor to his home in Edmonton, Alberta. With the support and generosity of the Sri Lankan community and Canadian Buddhist organizations, the Editor and his family helped Bhante Punnaji write several books and organize retreats, seminars, media interviews, and stress management workshops. He saved many of his writings, recorded presentations, conference proceedings, etc., with the editor, anticipating their publication before his life ended. Since then, the editor has taken the responsibility to preserve the legacy of Bhante Punnaji’s discoveries in the Buddha Dhamma by publishing them in a series of books and through a proposed website, currently in progress. The books are a meticulous word-for-word transcription of Bhante Punnaji’s words as they were penned or spoken and unaltered by the editor. All books are distributed at cost, in the spirit of sharing the Dhamma free of charge.

Readers will find many of Bhante Punnaji’s ideas refreshingly different from other sources on Buddhism. The book explains in exquisite detail the dynamics of sathipathana meditation. Anyone seeking a meaningful meditative experience will find these stepwise instructions invaluable. An expanded Index, a Glossary, and a special Q & A section are included in the book. The Q & A’s on Buddhism and meditation were recorded during thirty years of the editor’s association with the author. Two posthumously published books under the author’s name, Letting Go of ‘Self’: Lessons in Buddhist Psychology (2021) and Life Examined: Lessons in Buddhist Philosophy (2022), would be significant supplementary resources. Just as Bhante Punnaji’s study took a lifetime, the study of his work is not easy to absorb through casual one-time reading. The new generation of seekers, especially those who are scientifically oriented, should find Bhante Punnaji’s approach to teaching Buddhism and Buddhist meditation both appealing and of practical value.

Inner Calm is the third book in the “Buddhism Demystified” series. These books capture the lifelong research into original Buddhism by one of the foremost Buddhist intellectuals of this century. He is the late Venerable Mahathera Madawela Punnaji, who made the Sarathchandra Buddhist Center in North Hollywood, California, his temporary residence as a traveling monk. Bhante Punnaji, as his students respectfully addressed him, was a humble monk who was ordained at the age of 32 by the most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka Thera, Chief Prelate of the Sri Amarapura Dhammarakshita Nikaya. Serving the Washington Buddhist Vihara as a missionary monk in the early 70s, Bhante Punnaji later spearheaded the development of the West End Buddhist Temple and Meditation Centre, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. In the final phase of his life, he became a traveling monk, trotting the globe, teaching, conducting meditation retreats, and continuing his unceasing thirst to discover the true meaning of the Buddha’s words as preserved in the Pali Canon. In the final decade of his life, he settled at the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Remarkably, he was conducting a meditation retreat even on the last day of his life at 89 years, which happened to be the full-moon day of July 2018. 

Spectacular Performances Choreographed by Vithya Arasu and Akila Palipana and Roosara Dance Group on Sri Lanka Day 2022 Virtual Event

Sri Lanka Day Expo & Parade, a virtual Global Celebration, was launched in the United States on the Sri Lanka Foundation International Virtual Platform on August 13th and 14th, 2022. It showcased the rich artistic tradition, embracing the fine arts, including music, dance, and visual arts. 

Throughout the two-day festivities, the featured events staged from around the world when the sights and sounds and the unique taste of Sri Lanka virtually came alive. Mesmerizing dance and music performances were staged throughout the two days. In addition, it featured Sri Lankan traditional music, dances, art, and theatre produced in the USA, Sri Lanka, Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, the U.K., and India. I hope you enjoyed the two spectacular performances featured in last week’s SLF News. This week we are featuring two more concerts to appreciate the arts and culture of Sri Lankan traditional Dances. 

This dance performance will explore the visual, rhythmic, and kinaesthetic similarities between the dance forms of the two countries as dancers engage and complement each other through the movements and rhythms of their native dance styles. This performance is a collaboration between dancers from three countries, Vithya Arasu, an Indian dancer, a student of Shamitha Hettige from Sri Lanka, and students of Akila Palipana, Isuru, Dulana, Poorna, Julia, Sapna from Sri Lanka and Kishani from Australia.  Choreography by Vithya Arasu and Akila Palipana.
Music credit: Lasya by Anoushka Shankar.
Click the link to watch the performance.

Rosaria Dance was founded by Nilanth Karunarathna in 2009 and is dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and education of Sri Lankan culture through the ongoing development of Sri Lankan Traditional dance, Indian Classical dance, and creative and innovative styles of contemporary dance. Based in Toronto, Canada, Roosara Dance provides an excellent opportunity for many Sri Lankan students to learn exemplary traditional, innovative dance from Nilantha Karunarathna, the Artistic Director/ Choreographer of Roosara Dance. Rosaria Dance’s intent is to maintain the highest level of excellence in dance, to train future generations of dancers, and build local, national and international community support for classical and contemporary Sri Lankan dance.
Click the link to watch the performance.