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He was a sick child. He frequently suffered from the tell-tale signs of allergies. This is what encouraged Rakindu Wickramaratne from Nalanda College to take up his research on pollen allergy, while he was still in grade nine. Rakitha who has been suffering from allergies as a kid had wanted to research more about allergies. According to him, one in a five of those who suffer from allergies are allergic to pollen. In fact, it is one of the severe forms of allergies.

In 2012 the then principal of Nalanda College, Colombo Ranjith Jayasundara started a Research Unit making it the first research unit in a Sri Lankan government school. The aim of initiating the unit was to encourage students to engage be more innovative.

Teacher in charge of the Research Unit, Nalanda College, Upeksha Abesekara highly appreciated the assistance provided by Sri Lankan state universities, Sri Lanka Institute of Nano Technology (SLINTEC) and Sri Lanka Medical Research Institute (MRI).

“With the help of the aid provided by various institutes we have been able to direct children towards new dimensions. Our students have been able to conduct research on cures for Dengue, Leukemia, HIV/AIDS, asthma and one student has been able to develop an app to identify critical stages before heart attack,” Abesekara mentioned.

Nalanda College, current principal, Thilak Waththuhewa opined that Sri Lanka lacks research endeavours.

“Accurate solutions to pressing issues can only be identified through research. This Research Unit started in 2012 has bestowed fame on not only the school, but the whole country,” Waththuhewa added.

Abesekara pointed out that the Research Unit has opened the doors for students to take part in all-island as well as international level competitions, securing gold, silver and bronze medals. She revealed that the Research Unit gave the students the opportunity to participate in Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in 2013-2014, Engineering Olympiad, Sustainable Environmental Development Olympiad, Science Olympiad along with many other all-island competitions. In 2017 one student was awarded The Queen’s Young Leader’s Award by Queen, Elizabeth II.

Rakindu Wickramaratne is one such aspiring product of the Research Unit of Nalanda College. Rakindu who studies in grade 10 initiated research on pollen allergy when he was in grade nine. He won a silver medal for the second place in the International Conference for Young Scientists 2016 in Germany for his research based on pollen allergy. Rakitha has been one of the two candidates selected by the Ministry of Education to take part in the Conference.

Rakitha who has been suffering from allergies as a kid had wanted to research more about allergies. According to him, one in a five of those who suffer from allergies are allergic to pollen. In fact, it is one of the severe forms of allergies.

Rakitha explained that air pollutants that settle on pollen intensify allergic reactions. He opined that it is futile to grow trees when the environment is polluted. The practical thing is to reduce air pollution.

“I used pollens from flowers around Colombo and rural areas. When pollen were tested under the electron microscope it was clear that pollen around Colombo were more contaminated,” explained Rakitha.

Rakitha sought the assistance of SLINTEC to analyze pollutants according to the distribution of energy on pollens using an energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy. “It was clear that there were only five to 10 per cent Nitrogen and there were more than 54 per cent of Carbon, Aluminum and Chlorine in contaminated pollen,” said Rakitha. Rakitha revealed that contaminated pollen can be harmful not only to human beings but also to trees themselves.

In 2016 Rakitha won the first place for the same project, being selected for one of 10 best projects in the science research project competition organized by the National Science Foundation.

The only son of Senior Medical Laboratory Technician, Department of Electron Microscopy, Medical Research Institute, Keerthi Wickramaratne and Medical Laboratory Technician, Department of Blood Transfusion, Apeksha Hospital Maharagama, Jeewani Gunasekara has a flair for research. Yet his ambition is to one day become an engineer.

“Earlier before engaging in research, reading was my hobby. But now I want to do more literature surveys about researches,” Rakitha added.

Head of Department Plant Sciences, University of Colombo, Senior Lecturer, Sudeera Ranwala; Deputy Director of Health Services, Western Province, Dr. Anil Samaranayaka; Technician, Department of Electron Microscopy, Medical Research Institute, Shiromi De Silva; Senior Medical Laboratory Technician, Department of Electron Microscopy, Medical Research Institute, Keerthi Wickramaratne; Prof. Nalin De Silva and ADM Damayanthi from SLINTEC; Former Principal, Nalanda College, Ranjith Jayasundara; current Principal, Thilak Waththuhewa , teacher in charge of the Research Unit, Upeksha Abesekara; Pramitha Galappaththi; Science Division, Ministry of Education, MP Wipulasena and Nasriya are some of the personalities whom Rakitha wanted to express his gratitude towards. NJ
Pics by Sassanda Liyanarachchi

Rakindu Wickramaratne
Rakindu Wickramaratne
Current principal Thilak Waththuhewa
Current principal Thilak Waththuhewa
Rakindu with teacher in charge of the Research Unit Upeksha Abesekara
Rakindu with teacher in charge of the Research Unit Upeksha Abesekara

Rakindu Wickramaratne (2)