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LC Spotlight

LC Spotlight



Dr. Nipuni Palliyaguru, a postdoctoral researcher at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, in the United States, made Sri Lanka proud by being part of the team which proved renowned physicist Albert Einstein right.

Dr. Palliyaguru is part of the team known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or “LIGO”. Having joined LIGO as part of her postdoctoral research, Dr. Palliyaguru became involved in a collaborative effort to pinpoint the elusive signal whose existence Einstein predicted in 1905. February 11, 2015 was a big day for humanity when LIGO announced the details of the biggest discovery of the decade - gravitational waves. Dr Palliyaguru works in collaboration with LIGO and several telescope facilities to follow-up on gravitational wave sources.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time generated from the accelerated motion of massive bodies like stars and black holes. Einstein predicted their existence in his theory of general relativity over a century ago. However, they were not directly detected until now, when LIGO scientists spotted a signal of a merging binary black hole system in their data. The black holes in the system weighed about 30 times the weight of our sun, spiraled at a speed of about half the speed of light, sending ripples across the universe and finally coalesced.

“So far everything we know about the universe comes from electromagnetic observations, whether it is optical, infrared, gamma ray, x-ray, or radio. Gravitational wave radiation has its own spectrum and therefore, will open up a totally new window into the universe” says Dr Palliyaguru, adding, “the prospects are almost unimaginable”.

“With this, we will be able to answer the long-standing questions about how the universe was born, how galaxies evolved and find out the unknowns about black holes,” she added.

Dr. Palliyaguru received her Bachelor’s degree in Physics with first class honours from the University of Colombo in 2007. She obtained her PhD in Physics and Astronomy from West Virginia University, USA in 2015.



Dr. Asha de Vos is a Sri Lankan marine biologist and educator with a BSc (Hons) in Marine and Environmental Biology from the University of St. Andrews, UK, a MSc in Integrative Biosciences from the University of Oxford, UK and a PhD from the University of Western Australia. Her PhD focused on the ‘Factors influencing blue whale distribution off southern Sri Lanka’ specifically as this area overlaps with one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. This represents a part of the research she has been conducting on this population since 2008.

Her project ‘The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project’ forms the first long term study on blue whales within the Northern Indian Ocean. She has published several key research publications on Sri Lankan blue whales, which have led to this population being designated as a species in urgent need of conservation research by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC has since invited key Sri Lankan government personnel to participate in whale ship-strike related meetings to gain a broader understanding of the problem. Asha is also an invited member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group. Her efforts to bring attention to the unusual Sri Lankan blue whales and the threats they face have been showcased internationally by Channel 7 Australia (2010), the BBC (2010), the New York Times (2012), CNN (2012), WIRED UK (2014), the New Scientist (2014) and TED (2015). Asha is also a guest blogger for the National Geographic Society, a TED Senior Fellow, and a Duke University Global Fellow in Marine Conservation. She was recently selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and was named as one of the National Geographic Society’s Emerging Explorers of 2016. She is currently a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California in Santa Cruz, where she is working specifically on reducing the problem of ship-strike of blue whales in Sri Lankan waters.

She coined the term ‘the Unorthodox Whale’ based on many years of research on the blue whales around Sri Lankan waters and a realization that they were, simply, different.



The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the country’s premier business Chamber, appointed Ms. Dhara Wijayatilake, Attorney-at-Law, as its new CEO in March 2016.

Ms. Wijayatilake, who most recently (from October 2015 to February 2016) worked as the CEO of the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, an affiliate body of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, counts over four decades of extensive experience in several senior positions in the public sector.

An Attorney-At-Law by profession, Mrs. Wijayatilake holds the distinction of being the first woman to be appointed as Secretary to a Cabinet Ministry in the country with her appointment as the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice in 1994.

During her career in public service (1974-2015), Ms. Wijayatilake also worked as the Secretary to the Ministry of External Trade, Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the Ministry of Plan Implementation and the Ministry of Technology and Research. Her experience in these positions included active involvement in law reform initiatives in diverse areas including anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, cyber-crime and the protection of women and children, as well as monitoring the implementation of national development projects, introducing the concept of Managing for Development Results (MfDR) in Government, and the implementation of a public private partnership relating to scientific research. Her last appointment in the public service was as Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and Research (2015).

Mrs. Wijayatilake has authored many of Sri Lanka’s Reports to the U. N. Commission for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has led the Government delegation to the UN CEDAW sessions to defend Sri Lanka’s Report. She has also served as the Editor-in-Chief of “Justice,” a monthly publication of the Ministry of Justice (1985-1989) and was an Editor of the Sri Lanka Law Reports.

In the private sector she serves as a Director of Sampath Bank PLC, and a Director of the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA). She is also a member of the Public Service Commission and a member of the Law Commission of Sri Lanka.

The newly appointed CEO of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce is expected to bring in a new dimension to the 176 year Institution, with her unique mix of experience in both the public and private sectors.



Lawyer Natasha Balendra was appointed as the Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), by Rosy Senanayake, the State Minister of Child Affairs, early last year.

Ms Balendra is an Honours graduate from Oxford University (UK) and Harvard Law School. She has also received her Master’s in Criminology from the University of London. She is a Fellow of the New York University of Law and a recognized scholar in human rights and global justice. She was admitted to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) as an Attorney-at-Law and has also been a Barrister-at-Law in the UK.

Ms Balendra has extensive local and international legal experience and has held several legal and management posts in Sri Lanka and New York. In her new role, Ms Balendra will lead the development and operations of the National Child Protection Authority. The NCPA was established by the parliament of Sri Lanka to spearhead the prevention of child abuse as well as the protection and treatment of children who are victims of abuse. The organisation also regularly co-ordinates and monitors action against all forms of child abuse that are prevalent across Sri Lanka.



Her Majesty, the Queen of England presented a Queen’s Young Leaders Award to Nushelle de Silva at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London in June 2016.

As the Commonwealth celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday, this year’s award winner, Nushelle De Silva was recognized for taking the lead in transforming the lives of others and making a lasting difference in her community.

As a Queen’s Young Leader, she represented Sri Lanka, joining winners from 45 different Commonwealth countries in London for five days of high-level engagements, all designed to help them further their life-changing work.

Before receiving their Queen’s Young Leaders Award at Buckingham Palace, the winners visited 10, Downing Street and the UK headquarters of global social networking company Twitter, and met with senior executives at the BBC World Service. They also met the Commonwealth Secretary General, participated in workshops at the University of Cambridge, met with UK business leaders, and visited projects that are changing the lives of vulnerable people in the UK.

Following his meeting with Nushelle, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Maldives James Dauris said, “The Queen’s Young Leaders Program recognizes the achievements of exceptional young people who work tirelessly for the betterment of their communities. Nushelle has used her affinity for the creative arts as a platform to encourage reconciliation and to draw attention to the need for understanding and good relations between young people around Sri Lanka. Her work should encourage other young people to look for their own ways to promote and encourage peace-building measures”.

This year’s Award winners are working to support others, raise awareness and inspire change on a variety of issues including education, climate change, gender equality, mental health and improving the lives of people with disabilities.



Sheamalee joined CBL in 1991 as a food technologist and joined the Board of Directors in 1996. She has a Master's degree in Food Chemistry from Purdue University, USA and a degree from the Kansas State University in Food Science and Industry. In 1994, she started Modern Pack Lanka, a packaging company, and serves as its Managing Director. She is also an Executive Director of several of the subsidiary companies of CBL.

Sheamalee was awarded the Best Woman CEO of the Year 2016 in the Gold Category, for her exceptional leadership and achievement in the field of Business and Management.