Titled ‘Seekers and Builders of Our World: Inspiring Stories of 25 Scientists’, the 350-page book highlights the vital role of socially engaged scientists – those who unraveled mysteries of matter and life, tackled global problems like famine and disease, and shaped our modern world in different ways.
The book will be launched at the opening ceremony of SLAAS Annual Sessions at BMICH Colombo on 1 December 2014.
“Publication of this book hopes to ignite an interest in young minds and engage the next generation of scientists early so that they can be a part of the knowledge base that we badly need to nurture in our country,” says Dr A M Mubarak, General President of SLAAS for 2014, in his foreword to the book.
Among those profiled in the book are biologists, chemists, engineers, mathematicians, physicists and information technology pioneers. Some of them made pioneering discoveries – such as antibiotics, radioactivity and relativity – while others were responsible for pushing the limits of knowledge, design and technology.
Particular focus has been given to childhood influences that inspired them to pursue scientific careers, as well as life challenges – including poverty, societal discrimination or disability — they overcame with hard work, resolve and imagination.
The 25 personalities (in alphabetical order) are: Norman Borlaug; Rachel Carson; Arthur C Clarke; Gamani Corea; Jacques-Yves Cousteau; Marie Curie; P E P Deraniyagala; Albert Einstein; Enrico Fermi; Steve Jobs; Robert Koch; A N S Kulasinghe; Wangari Maathai, Mario Molina; Linus Pauling; Qian Xuesen; C V Raman; Srinivasa Ramanujan; WilhelmRöntgen; Abdus Salam; David Suzuki; Selman A Waksman; Ray Wijewardene; Edward O Wilson; and D J Wimalasurendra.
These names were chosen to inspire not only recent science graduates but also students in GCE Ordinary Level and Advanced Level classes and to promote a culture of research and spirit of inquiry.
“Engage Science, Enrich Society” has been the SLAAS theme for 2014. It sought to showcase the contribution science has made to human progress over the centuries. Through life stories of local and international scientists, the book reminds us that science is not an esoteric pursuit but very much a part of everyday life.
SLAAS is the premier organisation of professional scientists in Sri Lanka. Founded in 1944 and incorporated by Act of Parliament No 11 of 1966, it is a non-governmental and non-profit making voluntary organisation, with a vision to transform Sri Lanka to a “scientifically advanced nation”.
The book is being sold at a subsidised price of Rs 500. Limited copies will be available for sale from SLAAS office, “Vidya Mandiraya”, 120/10, Wijerama Road, Colombo 7, from December 5 onwards.
Through 54 columns, the book offers personalised insights and non-technical analysis related many current issues and topics in science, technology, sustainable development and information society in the Lankan context. It is written in an easy, conversational Sinhala style rich in metaphor and analogy.
In particular, this collection probes how and why Lankan society is increasingly prone to peddling conspiracy theories without critical examination or rational discussion. From astrological hype linked to end of the world in 2012 to claims of mass poisoning via agrochemicals, Nalaka seeks to separate facts from hype, conjecture and myth.
The book defies easy categorisation, as it covers topics as diverse as alternative histories, agrochemical misuse, disaster management, Internet censorship, Antarctic exploration, asteroid impacts, cricket history and road safety.
“I seem to have outgrown the neat label of science writer,” says Nalaka. “Indeed, the very title of my column suggests how I sit at the intersection (or confluence) of science, development, mass media and information society. From that point, I explore tensions between modernity and tradition — and ask more questions than I can easily answer!”
In his quest for clarity and reason, Nalaka talks to researchers, activists and officials. He also draws on his many experiences and global travels as a journalist, TV producer and development communicator.
In early August, Sri Lanka stopped the import of milk from New Zealand after discovering trace amounts of dicyanamide (DCD) a fertilizer additive, in four batches of milk sold by several firms. Concerns were also expressed on the presence of whey protein, a natural byproduct in cheese production.
After nearly a month of confusion and panic, the government now says it “probably overreacted” in its response to stories of contamination in milk powder imported from New Zealand.
Ensuring food safety is vital, and constant vigilance is needed – both on imported as well as locally produced food and beverages. What is the role of medical doctors and other scientifically trained professionals in such vital debates on public health and safety? How best can they conduct themselves in contentious policy issues with broad implications?