Chandra Wickramasinghe

Chandra Wickramasinghe

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Vidya Jothi
Sri Lankan honours system
The Sri Lankan national honours system is a fully indigenous honours system of titles, decorations and medals which are awarded to recognize achievements of, or service by, Sri Lankans or others in connection with Sri Lanka...

 Nalin Chandra Wickramasinghe (Sinhala:නලින් චන්ද්‍ර වික්‍රමසිංහ), FIMA, FRAS
Royal Astronomical Society
The Royal Astronomical Society is a learned society that began as the Astronomical Society of London in 1820 to support astronomical research . It became the Royal Astronomical Society in 1831 on receiving its Royal Charter from William IV...

, FRSA
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce is a British multi-disciplinary institution, based in London. The name Royal Society of Arts is frequently used for brevity...

 (born 20 January 1939) is Professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 at Cardiff University
Cardiff University
Cardiff University is a leading research university located in the Cathays Park area of Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom. It received its Royal charter in 1883 and is a member of the Russell Group of Universities. The university is consistently recognised as providing high quality research-based...

 and Honorary Professor at the University of Buckingham
University of Buckingham
The University of Buckingham is an independent, non-sectarian, research and teaching university located in Buckingham, Buckinghamshire, England, on the banks of the River Great Ouse. It was originally founded as Buckingham University College in the 1970s and received its Royal Charter from the...

. He is the Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology. Born and educated in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

, he currently lives in Cardiff, Wales, UK.

He was a student and collaborator of Sir Fred Hoyle
Fred Hoyle
Sir Fred Hoyle FRS was an English astronomer and mathematician noted primarily for his contribution to the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and his often controversial stance on other cosmological and scientific matters—in particular his rejection of the "Big Bang" theory, a term originally...

. Their joint work on the infrared spectra of interstellar grains led to developing the modern theory of panspermia. This theory proposes that cosmic dust in the interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

 and in comets is partly organic, and that life on Earth was 'seeded' from space rather than arising through abiogenesis
Abiogenesis
Abiogenesis or biopoesis is the study of how biological life arises from inorganic matter through natural processes, and the method by which life on Earth arose...

.

He is currently working on extending the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe theory of cometary panspermia to a cosmological context in collaboration with Carl H. Gibson and R.E. Schild. He is also making further identifications of spectral features in comets and in the interstellar medium with degraded biomaterial, thus corroborating panspermia theories.

"My most significant astronomical contribution was to develop the theory of organic grains in comets and in the interstellar medium. This was done during the 1970s and 80's, and it is now accepted by everyone almost without remembering its origins! I feel I also played a part in the birth of the science of astrobiology."


He is a fellow
Fellow
A fellow in the broadest sense is someone who is an equal or a comrade. The term fellow is also used to describe a person, particularly by those in the upper social classes. It is most often used in an academic context: a fellow is often part of an elite group of learned people who are awarded...

 of the Royal Society of Arts
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce is a British multi-disciplinary institution, based in London. The name Royal Society of Arts is frequently used for brevity...

, the Royal Astronomical Society
Royal Astronomical Society
The Royal Astronomical Society is a learned society that began as the Astronomical Society of London in 1820 to support astronomical research . It became the Royal Astronomical Society in 1831 on receiving its Royal Charter from William IV...

 and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications
Institute of Mathematics and its Applications
The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications is the UK's chartered professional body for mathematicians and one of the UK's learned societies for mathematics ....

; and has also won awards for his poetry.

Early life and education


Wickramasinghe was born in Sri Lanka and was educated at Royal College, Colombo thereafter at the University of Ceylon
University of Ceylon
The University of Ceylon was the only university in Sri Lanka from 1942 until 1972. It had several constituent campuses at various locations around Sri Lanka. The University of Ceylon Act No. 1 of 1972, replaced it with the University of Sri Lanka which existed from 1973 to 1978. In 1978 it was...

 where he graduated in 1960 with a BSc
BSC
BSC is a three-letter abbreviation that may refer to:Science and technology* Bachelor of Science , an undergraduate degree* Base Station Controller, part of a mobile phone network; see: Base Station subsystem...

 First Class Honours degree in Mathematics. He won a Commonwealth scholarship to proceed to Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

. He commenced work in Cambridge on his PhD degree under the supervision of the late Sir Fred Hoyle, and published his first scientific paper in 1961. He was awarded a PhD in Mathematics in 1963 and was elected a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The College was founded in 1496 on the site of a Benedictine nunnery by John Alcock, then Bishop of Ely...

 in the same year.

Academic career


In the following year he was appointed a Staff Member of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

. Here he began his pioneering work on the nature of Interstellar Dust, publishing many papers in this field that led to important paradigm shifts in astronomy. He published the very first definitive book on Interstellar Grains in 1967. In 1973 he was awarded Cambridge University’s highest doctorate for Science, the prestigious ScD
Scd
-In medicine:* Schnyder corneal dystrophy* Semen collection device* Sequential compression device an intermittent pneumatic compression system intended to reduce blood clot formation* Sickle-cell disease...

.

Chandra Wickramasinghe is acknowledged as being one of the world’s leading experts on interstellar material and the origins of life. He has made many important contributions in this field, publishing over 350 papers in major scientific journals, over 75 in the high-impact journal Nature. In 1974 he first proposed the theory that dust in interstellar space and in comets was largely organic, a theory that has now been vindicated. Jointly with the late Sir Fred Hoyle he was awarded the International Dag Hammarskjold Gold Medal for Science in 1986.

Wickramasinghe was a UNDP Consultant and Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka
President of Sri Lanka
The President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is the elected head of state and the head of government. The President is a dominant political figure in Sri Lanka. The office was created in 1978 but has grown so powerful there have been calls to restrict or even eliminate its power...

 in 1982-84, and played a key role in the setting up of the Institute of Fundamental Studies in Sri Lanka. In 1983/84 he was appointed the founder Director of the Institute of Fundamental Studies by President Junius Jayawardene. In 1992 he was decorated by the President of Sri Lanka with the titular honour of Vidyaj Yothi
Sri Lankan honours system
The Sri Lankan national honours system is a fully indigenous honours system of titles, decorations and medals which are awarded to recognize achievements of, or service by, Sri Lankans or others in connection with Sri Lanka...

. He was awarded the International Sahabdeen Prize for Science in 1996.

In 1973 he was appointed Professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 and Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Mathematical Physics at University College, Cardiff, being the youngest Professor appointed at the University up to that time. He was responsible for starting an Astrophysics research group in Cardiff under the auspices of a new Department that was formed under his headship, the Department of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy. He remained Head of this Department until 1989 by which time the Astronomy Research School in Cardiff was regarded as being one of the best in the UK. From 1989-1999 he held the post of Professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy within a newly structured School of Mathematics at Cardiff University of Wales. In the year 2000 he was appointed Director of the newly formed Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology. The University announced it was withdrawing funding for the Centre in 2010 and in 2011 the Centre transferred to the University of Buckingham.

He is an award-winning poet and the author or co-author of over 25 books and over 350 scientific papers. He has held visiting professorial appointments in a large number of Universities worldwide. In recognition of his extensive contributions to science and culture he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Soka University of Tokyo, Japan in 1996.

He was the John Snow Memorial Lecturer and John Snow Medalist of the Association of Anesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland in 2004.

Detection of Living Cells in the Stratosphere


On the 20th of January 2001 the Indian Space Research Organisation conducted a balloon flight from Hyderabad, India to collect stratospheric dust from a height of 41km with a view to testing for the presence of living cells. The collaborators on this project included a team of UK scientists led by Wickramasinghe. In a paper first presented at a SPIE conference in San Diego in 2002 the detection of evidence for viable microorganisms from 41km was presented (Melanie J. Harris, N.C. Wickramasinghe, David Lloyd et al, Proc SPIE, vol 4495, p192). An image of a clump of microorganisms from 41km fluorescing on application of a carbocyanine dye (indicating viability) is shown in the left panel, and scanning electron microscope image of a similar clump is shown on the right panel:
This data is arguably the best indicator of ongoing panspermia – present day introduction of bacteria from comets. But arguments still rage as to whether these represent incoming microbes from space, or microbes carried up to 41km from the surface of the Earth.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome


On the 24th May 2003 The Lancet
The Lancet
The Lancet is a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal. It is one of the world's best known, oldest, and most respected general medical journals...

 published a letter from Wickramasinghe, jointly signed by Milton Wainwright and Jayant Narlikar, which suggested that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) could be extraterrestrial. The letter is currently (December 2006) referenced on the Cardiff Astrobiology website. It includes this claim:

With respect to the SARS outbreak, a prima facie case for a possible space incidence can already be made...

A small amount of the culprit virus introduced into the stratosphere
Stratosphere
The stratosphere is the second major layer of Earth's atmosphere, just above the troposphere, and below the mesosphere. It is stratified in temperature, with warmer layers higher up and cooler layers farther down. This is in contrast to the troposphere near the Earth's surface, which is cooler...

 could make a first tentative fall out East of the great mountain range of the Himalayas, where the stratosphere is thinnest, followed by sporadic deposits in neighbouring areas.


The publication of this letter generated a certain amount of coverage in news media, including the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 and National Geographic magazine.

Wickramasinghe was also involved in coordinating analyses of the Red Rain of Kerala in collaborations with Professor Godfrey Louis, work that received wide publicity including a special edition of the BBC2 Horizon programmes.

Honors and awards

  • Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge
    Jesus College, Cambridge
    Jesus College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The College was founded in 1496 on the site of a Benedictine nunnery by John Alcock, then Bishop of Ely...

     in 1963
  • ScD
    Scd
    -In medicine:* Schnyder corneal dystrophy* Semen collection device* Sequential compression device an intermittent pneumatic compression system intended to reduce blood clot formation* Sickle-cell disease...

     by the Cambridge University in 1973.
  • Titular honour Vidya Jyothi
    Sri Lankan honours system
    The Sri Lankan national honours system is a fully indigenous honours system of titles, decorations and medals which are awarded to recognize achievements of, or service by, Sri Lankans or others in connection with Sri Lanka...

     by the government of Sri Lanka in 1992
  • International Sahabdeen Prize for Science in 1996
  • Honorary DLitt by the Soka University of Tokyo, Japan in 1996.
  • Doctor of Science
    Doctor of Science
    Doctor of Science , usually abbreviated Sc.D., D.Sc., S.D. or Dr.Sc., is an academic research degree awarded in a number of countries throughout the world. In some countries Doctor of Science is the name used for the standard doctorate in the sciences, elsewhere the Sc.D...

     (Honoris Causa) by the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka in 2004.

Publications

  • Arp, H.C., Burbidge, G., Hoyle, F., Narlikar, J.V. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., The extragalactic universe: an alternative view, Nature 346:807–812, August 30, 1990.
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe N.C., Lifecloud - The Origin of Life in the Universe, Pub. J.M. Dent and Sons, 1978. ISBN 0-460-04335-8
  • Wickramasinghe, N.C. and Ikeda D., Space and Eternal Life, 1998; ISBN 1-85172-060-X. (Also available in Japanese).
  • Fred Hoyle & Chandra Wickramasinghe, "Our Place In The Cosmos", Life Did Not Begin On Earth - It Arrived From Space And Is Still Arriving ISBN 1-85799-433-7 J M Dent Ltd, Phoenix Publications 1993.
  • Chandra Wickramasinghe, "Cosmic Dragons:Life and Death on Our Planet", ISBN 0 285 6360-6 5, Souvenir Press, London, 2001.
  • Richard Hoover, C. N. Wickramasinghe, R. Joseph, Rudy Schild, The Discovery of Alien Extra-Terrestrial Life: The Cosmic Origins of Life, ISBN 978-0982955291. Cosmology Science Publishers (March 22, 2011)

Further reading

  • Chandra Wickramasinghe, A Journey with Fred Hoyle: The Search for Cosmic Life, World Scientific Publishing, 2005, ISBN 981-238-912-1
  • Janaki Wickramasinghe, Chandra Wickramasinghe and William Napier, Comets and the Origin of Life, World Scientific Publishing, 2009, ISBN 981-256-635-X

External links



His work has been published here: