Interview with 2023 Prof. MLT Kannangara Gold Medal Winner – Limini Fonseka

The Faculty of Science held its General Convocation 2022 on 6th September 2023 at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, Colombo.  T. Limini M. D. Fonseka was the Inaugural winner of the Prof. MLT Kannagara Gold Medal.

Published below is an Interview CUFSAA conducted with Limini.

CUFSAA Congratulates on her great achievement!

Prof M L T Kannagara Gold Medal winner interview Questions

Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Kelaniya with my parents while spending most of my time with my grandparents until the age of five. As my parents are nature lovers, I have been exposed to a very nature-loving environment. Strolling in the garden, paddling a float on the waterway in the marshland next to my house, the playful days I had with my siblings and friends, and running across paddy fields and forest groves in my grandfather’s hometown are a few of the wonderful childhood memories I can recall. Daily, I grew up very closely with my parents and sibling while I have always been encouraged to embrace my passion.

I studied at Musaeus College from nursery to Grade 11 and then completed my Advanced Level grades at Visakha Vidyalaya-Colombo 04. The support my parents gave me to succeed in my academics was immense.

During my school days, I was a member of the Astronomical Society and a swimmer.

Any specific incident which got you interested in science?

Ever since I can remember, I have been a very keen night sky observer. This made me wonder what is above and beyond us. As a child, I had endless questions with multiple whats, whys, and hows. I must thank my parents for attentively answering those questions.

Why ( or how) did you decide to major in Physics?

I had a special interest in physics since my school days and this led me to discover the potential in a Physics major to answer all my whats, hows, and whys. Therefore, I had a strong desire to join the Faculty of Science upon the completion of my secondary education, Hence, soon after my admission to the University of Colombo, I chose Physics as one of my main-stream subjects. In my 3rd year of university, I was fortunate to get selected for the Physics Honours degree offered by the Department of Physics.

Have you heard about the Late Prof. Kannnagara before hearing about this award?  What do you know about him now?

Yes. I have known him as a former department head of the Department of Physics, University of Colombo. He is also known as one of the finest lecturers of the Department of Physics. Later, I got to know about his contribution to science via quality research.

 Are you interested in Graduate studies? if yes in what area/why?  

Yes, I am looking forward to applying for higher studies for the fall 2024 intake. I am interested in the fields of optics and astronomy. I look forward to getting involved in experimental physics.

What is your career goal(s)? 

I look forward to pursuing a research-oriented career within my range of interests.

What will you say to a new student who is considering a special degree at UoC?

Faculty of Science, University of Colombo offers a wide range of special degrees. They are offered by different departments such as the Department of Physics, Department of Chemistry, Department of Mathematics, Department of Statistics, etc.

These special degree programs are research-oriented while there are 4-year degrees that are industry oriented. Out of all these special degree programs, I was fortunate to follow a Physics special degree.

A physics special degree is a high-quality research-oriented degree program that focuses on different aspects of Physics. It is offered by the Department of Physics. If you are a physics enthusiast, this research program is ideal for you. In this degree, you will get exposure to both experimental and theoretical physics. Also, you have the opportunity to get involved in research work starting from the 1st year of university. Therefore, this environment is ideal for a budding physicist.

Moreover, I must mention that both the learning environment and learning process at the University of Colombo are very student-friendly regardless of the special degree you wish to follow. All curious minds are welcomed with open hands to question and explore the realms of science with new ideas.

 What extra-curricular activities you were involved in and how did they help you grow as an individual?

During my 4 years at university, I have served in 6 different clubs and societies in various aspects. I held the positions of Secretary of SEDS UOC (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, University of Colombo) for the term 20/21 and the position of Assistant Secretary of the Astronomical Society of University of Colombo for the term 21/22. I have also served as the event coordinator of ‘FOS TV 2021’ which was telecasted on behalf of the century celebrations of the Faculty of Science under FOS Media (official media unit of the Faculty of Science) and the project coordinator of ‘Coast to Coast’, an initiate of the International Service avenue of the Rotaract Club of Faculty of Science.

I have also served as an organizing committee member for the projects such as Star Quest’ 22, and multiple community Night Camps held island-wide under the Astronomical Society, ‘Science Bus’ Phase I, II, & III, ‘Physics Research Drive’ under the Physics Society, ‘Mistletoe Magic’, RACFOSUOC Installation Ceremony, ‘Creative Fusion’ under the Rotaract Club of Faculty of Science, and Meta+, ‘Socizilla’ under the Entrepreneur & Innovation (EI) Club. I was also a blogger and a photographer for FOS Media while a graphic designer for RACFOSUOC and EI Club. Additionally, I was fortunate to be a part of the badminton team in the ‘Freshers Meet 2019’. I am pleased to mention that I have been awarded the ‘Most Passionate Rotaractor of the Year’ for the term 20/21.

Furthermore, I have been an active undergraduate researcher at the ALOKA Research Collaboration – Center for Instrument Development, Department of Physics. I was able to publish my first scientific article “A quantitative approach to gemstone identification using Raman spectroscopy combined with machine learning” in the Sri Lankan Journal of Physics in 2022.

In addition to all the extra-curricular activities carried out at university, I also completed my Associate Diploma of the London College of Music (Speech & Drama – ALCM in Teaching), theory of music (grade 8), and piano music (grade 8).

All these extra-curricular activities immensely contributed to self-development in various aspects. Indeed, it contributed a lot towards the development of soft skills. Project management taught me multiple life lessons that cannot be learned by books.

We might learn numerous theories in university. Yet, we should be able to put these theories into practice. Doing so will not be an overnight achievement. We should be persistent. Also, as the saying goes “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”, a strong team under proper leadership is capable of turning the impossible into possible. These can be learned and practiced by getting involved in extra-curricular activities. I had such a first-hand experience during the time I was involved in the aforementioned research.

Most importantly, a frequently heard concern of university students is time management. I believe this can be learned by getting involved in several clubs and societies according to a person’s convenience. I believe this will give intuition to an individual on how to prioritize their work according to the time being because one will then feel the need to achieve several tasks within an allocated period.  If properly practiced, these will teach you how to maintain a work-life balance.

These extra activities taught me how to become a balanced individual independent of the working conditions while achieving the aforementioned qualities.