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Science is the secret to development - Minister Amunugama

The importance of scientific innovation in facilitating development and furthering progress in Sri Lanka was stressed by Science, Technology, Research, Skills Development and Vocational Training and Kandyan Heritage Minister Dr.Sarath Amunugama.

The Minister was speaking to an audience of researchers, technologists and innovators at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Awards Ceremony on Wednesday.

“If you look at all the progress of developing countries, the secret of their success is the role of science,” he said.

The minister noted that a large number of scientists and engineers that serve in leading political bodies in China and Singapore have helped these countries achieve rapid growth.

Minister Amunugama mentioned Sri Lanka’s outdated agriculture system and problems with flooding of paddy fields as two key areas where scientific knowledge could offer solutions.

He called on scientists to showcase their work to the real world by showing the public, the pragmatic applications of their research, which is often only discussed in academic circles.

“You are heroes of this country. You have devoted your life to painstaking work… The country must know what you do,” and said in lighter vein that Sri Lanka has the world’s “most curious” public. “They’ll be very interested in knowing what you are doing,” Minister Amunugama added.

In order to advance sciences in Sri Lanka, Minister Amunugama said there needs to be a shift in cultural attitudes toward science.

“What we need in Sri Lanka is a scientific attitude, a scientific way of thinking, a way of absorbing scientific phenomena,” he said.

Dr.Sanjiva Weerawardena, computer scientist and founder of open source technology company, WSO2, echoed the Minister’s sentiment adding that there is economic value to sharing your work with the public.

“People have to feel the results of scientific work, he said.

“Writing papers and going to conferences... that’s not enough for a poor country.”

Dr.Weerawardena also highlighted the way in which technology is changing and how it is crucial for scientists to think across disciplines.

“We need to try to bring more of the creative side into the sciences and try to create an environment where people are motivated to do research that is more creative and has more human factors,” he said.

For Dr. Weerawardena, at the heart of it science is passion. “I am not someone who believes in awards,” he said.

“Life is too long to worry about working for an award. You should work because you love doing what you’re doing,” he said.

NSF Director General Professor Ananda Jayawardene while congratulating the recipients of awards,added that there is still work to be done. Sri Lanka’s scientific investment rate stands at 106% of GDP, lagging behind every other nation in the region.

NSF Chairperson Sirimali Fernando said they hope to increase the number of researchers in Sri Lanka to 2,000 over the next 10 years.

Acknowledging students and academics in a variety of scientific disciplines, the NSF presented awards in four categories: Research, Technology, The World Academy of Scientists/NSF Young Scientist Award, and Support Scheme for Supervision of Research Degrees. Founded in 1968, NSF celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.