Sri Lanka may be a small island, but time and time again, we have managed to produce talents to rival the best at global levels. In addition to reaching the pinnacle of their professions, some of these exceptional individuals have even managed to revolutionise their respective fields. How our cricketing heroes completely remolded the way [...]


Young Sri Lankan Driving Forward the Next Big Revolution in Communications Technology


Sri Lanka may be a small island, but time and time again, we have managed to produce talents to rival the best at global levels. In addition to reaching the pinnacle of their professions, some of these exceptional individuals have even managed to revolutionise their respective fields. How our cricketing heroes completely remolded the way the game is approached in 1996 has now become the stuff of folklore, and the vocals of Ms. Yohani Silva has recently managed to grab the attention of more than half the world. Although not as well known, many Sri Lankans have excelled and made landmark contributions in numerous academic fields as well, and continue to do so even today. Two prime examples are Prof. Bandula Wijay, the inventor of the vascular stent, which continues to save countless lives around the world, and Prof. Sarath Gunapala, whose work of solid-state physics has been instrumental in many of NASA’s recent successes. These prodigious talents are sources of immense pride to the nation, and today’s article is on an individual who could well be the next link in the chain.

Dr. Viduranga Bandara Wijekoon is a young researcher on communications technology, already with two US patents under his name. His work has brought us to the cusp of the next big revolution in communications, data storage in DNA. The idea seems straight out of science fiction, but Dr. Wijekoon and his research group have already managed to realise it. When it comes to practical data storage, their prototype system does tick most of the boxes, and it may not be long before we can carry all the data in a good-sized library inside a drop of DNA suspended in a vacuum and attached to a key tag. Fancy that.

Dr. Viduranga received his primary education from Highlands College, Nugegoda, and joined Royal College, Colombo 7, in 2002, after getting through the scholarship examination with the third best results in the island. It seems he never took his foot off the pedal when it comes to academics, and was duly ranked 6th in the island in ordinary level examinations in 2007, and then the first, from physical sciences stream, in 2010. Along the way, he managed to secure 30+ prizes at college prize awarding ceremonies, won several district and island level awards in science, mathematics, and creative writing, served the college as a senior prefect, and went on to represent Sri Lanka at the 51st International Mathematical Olympiad, where he received an honorable mention. School years well spent, I must say.

As per norm, Viduranga joined the engineering faculty at University of Moratuwa at the culmination of his secondary education, where he decided to pursue electronic and telecommunication engineering. His prowess as an original researcher was first identified at the University, when he proposed a novel hardware architecture for software-defined networking, which manages to reduce the implementation cost almost by half. This architecture was presented to academia at IEEE NFV-SDN conference, a gathering of the top-tier researchers in networking, in 2016, and received the second runners-up award in the IEEE Undergraduate project symposium. The accompanying research article continues to receive global attention. Viduranga graduated from University of Moratuwa in 2015, with first class honors, and dean’s list placement in all academic semesters, which requires an average grade of above 90%. In addition to all this, his team managed to reach the top 100 in the IEEEXtreme programming competition, the topmost international competition on algorithmic programming, in 2015.

Dr. Viduranga Bandara Wijekoon

After graduating, hungry for a taste of industry, Viduranga joined Millennium Information Technologies (pvt) Ltd, now re-branded as London Stock-Exchange technology, as a software engineer. Although he was not focused on research, his time there was far from uneventful. Viduranga managed to propose a novel software architecture for financial risk computation, which at the time even outperformed hardwired architectures on latency, by some margin at that. His architecture currently operates as the foundation of risk computation systems all over the world, including at London and Paris Stock Exchanges.

The researcher in Viduranga could not be satiated for long on professional successes, and he joined Monash University, Australia, in 2017, to pursue a doctoral degree on telecommunications under Prof. Emanuele Viterbo, the inventor of the golden code, which is the industry standard for error correction in multi-user communication. His studies were funded by four separate scholarships, from Monash University, and the Australian Research Council. Once at Monash, Viduranga’s career as a researcher really took-off. Within a year of starting doctoral studies, he invented a successful method to decode non-binary codes using binary graphs, which was swiftly patented by no less an organisation than Microchip, the semi-conductor giant. The invention, and its applications, were later published in the top-tier journals of his field, and presented to the public in Australia, USA, Italy, and Sweden. Microchip organization plans on using the invention to produce USB drives with a much longer lifespan.

During his doctoral studies, in addition to his work on non-binary codes, Viduranga worked on a few other research problems in his field, some related to finite algebra, and others to probability and statistics. His research findings on these were presented publicly in France, South Korea, and Australia, and were later published in high quality journals. Moreover, in 2020, his team was awarded the second runners-up prize in the Monash Innovation Competition, for proposing a mathematical framework to accelerate COVID-19 testing. As recognition of his excellence in research, Viduranga was selected as one of the only three nominees from Monash University for the Schmidt Science Fellowships, a highly sought-after global fellowship scheme awarded for cross-discipline research. It is also worthy of mentioning that he delivered tutorials to Undergraduate and Masters students during his doctoral studies, and received special commendation from the University for teaching, an award based on student feedback.

At the culmination of his doctoral studies in December 2020, Viduranga was straightaway offered a research fellow position at Monash University, offering him with another opportunity to make further impactful contributions to his field of research. The problem he chose to tackle at the inception of his new position is something that will be felt by almost all of us pretty soon; the lack of a sustainable storage medium to handle the ever-increasing amount of data produced globally. The production of Silicon globally will soon fail to keep pace with the increasing demand for digital data storage, rendering the prevailing technologies, such as solid state drives or magnetic tapes, practically useless. In the search for a more sustainable medium, DNA has attracted the attention of researchers worldwide due to the incredible data density it offers, and its long term durability. A single gram DNA has the potential to hold the data in more than a million of hard drives, and if kept at the right temperature, will have a lifespan of more than one thousand years. Imagine being able to store all your photos and videos in some blob inside a cool box, and a future descendant of yours, thousands of years from now, enjoying them. DNA allows us exactly that opportunity.

For a couple decades now, researchers world-wide have strived to realise the potential of DNA as a data storage medium, but none have been able to add the levels of reading accuracy, or accessibility required to make it practically feasible. That is, till Dr. Viduranga and his team at Monash University came up with a highly accessible and reliable DNA-based data storage scheme last year. On top of offering accuracy and reliability, the prototype system they developed could be operated via a USB connection to a laptop, similar to how you would use a hard drive now. The technology they developed has been patented by Nucleotrace, an Australian bio-tech corporation developing technologies for Australian defence forces, and US and EU Food and Drug Administration organisations. In addition to data storage, Dr. Viduranga and his team are also hopeful of using their new technology for product tracking purposes, especially for pharmaceuticals, the most widely counterfeited commercial product worldwide. They are currently improving the technology, and adding auxiliary features, such as passwords based on a person’s DNA. They are also hopeful of making the technology operate via a smartphone in the coming years.

Despite achieving so much as a researcher, Dr. Viduranga just turned 30 this year, and definitely has his best years ahead of him. As Sri Lankans, it is our fervent hope that he continues his fabulous journey, and brings even more pride to the motherland.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.