Business Times

More graduate chemists pass out this year
By Quintus Perera

The 27th batch of 92 Graduate Chemists passing out this year exceeds the previous highest of 53 in 2008 which adds up to the total passed out of 663 Graduate Chemists, said Dr J N Fernando, Dean, College of Chemical Sciences, Institute of Chemistry Ceylo, speaking at its sixth Convocation held in Colombo last week.

Ms G D M R Dabera won an overall 10 awards, clinching the Gold for performance in all parts of the Graduate ship, Overall Excellence in Physical Chemistry, Overall Excellence in Inorganic Chemistry, Second Place in Level 3 and 4 offered by the Royal Society of Chemistry (Sri Lanka Section), Best Performers achieving overall excellence in Chemistry Practical, Level 3 and 4 in Chemistry, Energetics and Kinetics, Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and Management, Economics and Marketing.

At the Convocation citations were made for the recognition of Senior Chartered Chemist, E G Somapala and Ms P M Jayasinha. Dr R O B Wijesekera, Senior Chemist and Director/Consultant, Link Natural Products (Pvt) Ltd delivering the Convocation address on ‘Two Chemists who enlarged the bound of society’, discussed the lives and scientific work of two of the world’s greatest scientists (chemists) – both are living today who have made a momentous social impact which showed what science can achieve what benefits mankind derives and also what dangers are possible by abuse and misuse of the scientific results.

The first is Frederick Sanger who won two Nobel Prizes and is known as the father of the ‘Genome’ – Genome being all the information encoded within the DNA which is the carrier of genetic information – DNA being a major breakthrough in crime detection.

Dr Wijesekera said that by this time much was known of both DNA and its cousin RNA and Watson and Criek with the X-ray work of the late Rosalind Franklin had made the discovery of the double helix. Thus in 1960 one hundred years after Darwin elaborated the Theory of evolution, scientists had identified DNA as the molecule that carried the hereditary traits. The sequence of the nucleotides, control the sequence of amino acids in proteins. Dr Wijesekera said that Sanger won the second Nobel Prize on his work on the research leading to invent DNA.

Dr Wijesekera said that Sanger an Englishman in 1943 joined the group of A C Chibnall and commenced studies at Cambridge University on the Chemistry of the Protein Insulin, about which very little was known at the time. This was a particularly exciting time in protein Chemistry and Sanger recalls the new developments of the time in the separation methods of paper chromatography which had been just developed by A J P Martin and his colleagues for which they were to receive the Nobel Prize.

Sanger’s work culminated in the development of the technique known as: the “dideoxy technique” for DNA sequencing in around 1975. Sanger’s driving force was the challenge of determining the order of the bases in DNA (DNA sequencing). The method he and his group had developed was a relatively rapid one and he successfully used it to determine the DNA sequence in several of the bacteriophages, and of human mitochondrial DNA (48500 nucleotides).

Since then his method has been automated with the intervention of improved instrumentation and computer technology, to enable the study of the human genome (3 billion nucleotides)

The other great Scientist (chemist) Dr Wijesekera spoke about was Carl Djerassi an American, a Jewish emigrant from Bulgaria, a winner of the Priestly Award, - America’s highest award for chemistry and arguably the greatest scientist never to win a Nobel Prize. Djerassi is often referred to as the Father of the Birth Control Pill. Prof Wijesekera said that Djerassi won no Nobel Awards but this is a travesty of justice, as he has done sufficient for Science as well as for society to merit two awards.

His carrier spans so many things. He has been described as the Father of the Birth Control Pill, a title he shares with the other collaborators: Gregory Pincus and John Rock, who performed the biological and clinical studies to confirm the efficacy and safety of the pill in humans. Prof Wijesekera said “These two chemists, very different from one another have had a remarkable impact on society by their work”.

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