This obituary appeared in the ‘Association Newsletter and College Record 2009’ of Downing College, University of Cambridge.
George Alexander Dissanaike died on July 4, 2008, shortly after his 81st birthday. He was Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of Peradeniya (formerly, the University of Ceylon) and a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Physics, Sri Lanka.
He was also a past President of the Institute of Physics. George entered the University of Ceylon as an undergraduate in 1945. After graduating with a BSc degree in Physics in 1949, he was awarded the Ceylon Government University Science Scholarship for postgraduate studies at Cambridge.
George came up to Downing in 1950 as a research student in experimental nuclear physics. He had fond memories of Downing.
He represented the College in Badminton, and turned out for the second team. George spoke of having to use ten blankets to keep warm in the winter, and had vivid memories of the rationing just after the war. The College Kitchen staff used to give him an extra egg because he was from the tropics and needed additional energy to keep warm.
George obtained his PhD from the Cavendish Laboratory in 1953. On hearing of George’s death, his former PhD supervisor, Professor Burcham FRS, wrote to say, “George was one of my most able research students and collaborators. I also distinctly remember his deadpan humour and excellent command of the English language.”
Ceylon won her independence from Britain in 1948, and George belonged to a generation of Ceylonese academics who chose to return to their country to play a part in the development of her university system which was, incidentally, inextricably linked to Oxbridge. In fact, George’s association with the Sri Lankan university system spanned over 60 years.
Nevertheless, he also periodically held visiting professorships or faculty appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of South Carolina, and the Universities of Cambridge and Surrey. George’s publications covered nuclear physics and energy; the scattering of light, sunsets and air pollution; and science education.
He also published several papers on physics and biology, together with his parasitologist brother, Prof. Stanley Dissanaike, DSc (London). Many tributes were received after his death, of which the following are just two: Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale, FRS and Astronomer Royal (1991–95):
“... a very fine man; a thinker and a very good physicist. His wise guidance will be missed by all – and there were many – who knew him.”Professor Anthony French, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA: “... an excellent scientist, a wonderful man and one of my oldest friends.”George’s wife, Vijayalakshmi, lives in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and his son, Gishan, is a senior academic at the University of Cambridge.