Speakers

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With the human induced sixth mass extinction event gathering momentum, one of the greatest collective responsibilities of humanity is the prevention of loss of biodiversity. For this, an understanding of the processes that generates and maintains diversity is vitally important: determining species boundaries, when and how various species came into being, insights into their biology and natural history, understanding major interactions through space and time, correlates of extinctions. Generating such broad knowledge invariably touches many disciplines – phylogenetics and systematics, evolution, ecology, palaeontology, development and behaviour – a seemingly arduous process. Given the incongruity of our collective scientific focus and given that there are an estimated 5-10 million species on earth, a majority still unnamed, rapid species documentation and focusing on large groups to understand species-related dynamics is needed. Multi-dimensional analyses of lineage diversification patterns and processes, especially that of ecologically and climatically sensitive organisms, will provide this broad knowledge base needed for long-term conservation of not only the species but also the processes that generates and maintains and eventually naturally extinguishes this diversity.

Integrating various methods, Dr. Madhava Meegaskumbura, currently a senior lecturer at the University of Peradeniya (Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology) studies this. He has worked with the climatically and ecologically sensitive frogs, and to a lesser extent, the freshwater fish and small mammals; but with his colleagues and students, he is probing deeper, using some of the latest analytical tools. Following a Ph.D. from Boston University and a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University Centre for the Environment, he has published more than 50 research papers while describing nearly 30 species and 5 genera of frogs and fish. He serves as the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) co-chairman for Sri Lanka. He has received the “Belamarich Award for the outstanding Ph.D. thesis“, a “Top Ten Species Award” and several “Presidential Awards for Scientific Research”. Contributing to the dissemination of knowledge, he produces video documentaries and serves on editorial boards of two scientific journals and a university research magazine.

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Vihanga Perera has been active in writing between 2006 and the present in a range of genres that include Poetry, Short Fiction, Longer Fiction, Non-fictional Prose and the blogsphere. Todate, he has published 4 collections of poetry, 4 works of fiction, 2 collections of short fiction, 2 works of non-fictional prose and a collection of essays on literature.

His more recent work includes Music. Death. (2016), Love and Protest (2015), and Postcards to Bentham (2013). He is also the co-author of The Pen of Granite (2015), a commemorative work on the slain journalist/artist, Richard de Zoysa.

Vihanga was the winner of the Gratiaen Prize in 2014. He has been shortlisted for the same in 2006 and 2008.

Vihanga has been educated at Kingswood College and the University of Peradeniya. He holds Bachelors and Masters qualifications from the latter institute. He is also a freelance writer on the arts and society and has been a columnist to three national weeklies between 2009 and 2012.

JD

Jayantha Dhanapala is a former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003) and a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA (1995-7) and to the UN Office in Geneva (1984-87). He is currently the 11th President of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; Deputy Chairman of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and on several other advisory boards of international bodies. As a Sri Lankan diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala served in London, Beijing, Washington D.C., New Delhi and Geneva and represented Sri Lanka at several international conferences chairing many of them including the historic NPT Review and Extension Conference of 1995. He was Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) from 1987-92.Dhanapala has received many international awards and honorary doctorates, has published five books and several articles in international journals and lectured widely. He speaks Sinhala, English, Chinese and French. He is married and has a daughter and a son.

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Sabina is currently the Group Head of Legal for the Hirdaramani Group of Companies. She started her legal career as an in-house counsel at the premier blue chip conglomerate John Keells Holdings PLC and thereafter served as Vice President Legal, at Copal Amba (previously Amba Research) a subsidiary of the US ratings agency Moodys Inc. Having completed her secondary school education at Hilllwood College, Kandy, she obtained an English Honours degree from the University of Colombo, with a specialisation in gender and identity in literature. She simultaneously qualified as an Attorney-at-Law from Sri Lanka Law College in 2003, winning Mahalpola Scholarship qualification at both institutions. After ten years of diverse and rigorous legal practice, she took a hiatus from full time legal work during 2015 to devote more time to contributing her experience and expertise to issues relating to women, children, health and well being, including issues that need to be addressed both globally and nationally in relation to the empowerment of women, men and protection of the rights of children and vulnerable social groups. As a freelance writer, volunteer teacher and mentor she has worked with organizations such as FPA Sri Lanka and Sarvodhaya and currently with Emerge Lanka and Forte Consultancy. With a love for speaking and a penchant for theatrics, she is also a qualified Speech and Drama teacher and has acted in theatre performances in Kandy and Colombo. In 2015 she edited the work of Chandima Rajapatirana, a writer who suffers from acute autism, whose book was launched at the inaugural AAKG Literature Festival in Colombo and was shortlisted for the 2015 Gratiean Award. In addition to being passionate about the arts and literature she loves travelling and being outdoors, spending time on the yoga mat, swimming and open water diving.

bandaranayake

Dr. Asitha Bandaranayake is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Peradeniya specializing in Computer Networking. He previously worked at Cisco Systems in the United States, where he was in charge of improving the WebVPN feature testing automation for Cisco Systems. His research experience has been in Wireless Mesh & Sensor Networks, Heterogeneous Networks, 4G/LTE, Voice over IP (VoIP), Software Defined Networking (SDN), Femtocell Networks, Vehicular Networks and Cognitive Radio.