a genius ahead of his time
By Tharaka Gamage
“Leisure is spent mainly on wildlife
and nature photography. In addition, travelling (hiking and camping),
astronomy, supernatural activity and the like, keep me awake. Formal
education is in an engineering background. Specialised in electronics
and telecommunication engineering. Work done in novel semiconductors
(amorphous carbon) led to a Ph.D. Teach university students, for a
He was a ‘professor’ even in school, since his classmates in Grade 7-8
called him “Prof”, because of his amazing talent and exceptional
knowledge beyond his years.
Amith Munindradasa, born July 3, 1966 in Panadura, completed his primary
education at Panadura Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya and entered Royal College,
Colombo, following his success at the Grade 5 Scholarship exam.
Surprising his friends at school, he rigged a fluorescent light without
wires attached. He magnetized things with a coil wound around a bolt. He
has had that ‘electronic fever’ as a kid.
“Even before I attended school, I would mess around in my uncle’s
workshop. He never discouraged me, though frequently, I broke his
valuable instruments as a result of my experiments. Instead, he
encouraged me. It influenced me,” said Amith, while chatting with me a
few years ago.
He never crammed his studies, instead, he assimilated, in depth,
whatever that was imparted to him. Though he topped the batch in his
third year of engineering at Moratuwa University, he only had a few
papers as lecture notes.
In his second year, he came to know of a breakdown of an automated
production line at a large-scale garment factory for which a team of
foreign experts were to be flown in to repair it, since nobody in Sri
Lanka could repair it. However, Amith spent only a weekend on the ‘job’
and got it into operation. The company saved millions, though he claimed
His ‘professorship’ was changed to ‘prof-mahayana’ during his
undergraduate days, for his insistence on traveling in State buses,
referred to as ‘mahayana” (big vehicle), instead of the private coaches
operating between Moratuwa campus and Katubedda, because they were small
and uncomfortable to travel in.
He was a senior member of the Astronomy and Space Study Centre of
Piliyandala. Until recently, virtually, every Saturday night, he spent
scanning the sky with friends of the club. He would grind mirrors and
make telescopes and allied accessories. I remember once, he repaired Sir
Arthur C. Clark’s private telescope as well.
As a First Class B.Sc. Eng. Hon., of the University of Moratuwa, he
lectured there for two years. He then joined the University of
Liverpool, UK, on a scholarship and did his Ph.D. under the tutelage of
Prof. G.A.J. Amarathunge. As a keen student of semiconductors, since a
schoolboy, Amith explored the possibilities of using amorphous carbon as
a semiconductor for thin-films.
For these researches, he had to make thin-films and observe the optical
and electronic properties of those films. Deposition of a thin-film is
not an easy task. The conventional method of depositing a thin-film was
called the chathodic arc system, which was a tedious process. Amith
researched for a new efficient process. His dedication and commitment
led to the discovery of the “Helicon Wave System’.
In his discovery, he reported a novel method to generate nitrogen plasma
and his comparison of ‘helicon wave generated plasma’ with the
conventional inductively coupled ‘RF plasma’. Nitrogen plasma is
commonly generated by passing a current through a gas column, especially
for nitrogen laser applications. The optical cavity poisoning due to
electrode evaporation and the excessive heat dissipation onto the vacuum
tube wall, by diffused plasma, can lead to an unstable system. An
electrode free, confined plasma system can improve the performance of
such a system. Helicon wave excitation allowed the selective energy
transfer into plasma species via Landau damping.
As a result of his research, he was able to study a field emission of
thin-films. The particular property of the field emission is that it
emits a light when an electric current is supplied. Field-emission
displays contain materials that emit electrons, when charged to a low
(negative) potential; the electrons excite light emission from phosphor
screens. These devices have the potential to provide flat-panel visual
displays with good picture quality at low power consumption and low
cost. Field-emission devices at that time used arrays of micro
fabricated tips as the emitting cathodes but, Amith showed that a
potentially cheaper and simpler alternative was to use a thin-film
The results he obtained on thin-films could apply for many kinds of
productions. His carbon films have been used by a company in the UK, as
an excellent passivation protective layer for their power devices, under
conditions where their own layers were unable to protect their devices.
In the latter part of his Ph.D. studies, he had to move from Liverpool
to Cambridge, as his supervisor moved. All the instruments removed from
the Liverpool laboratory, had to be re-assembled in Cambridge. This was
done by Amith.
He forsook international prestige and huge financial benefits to serve
his nation. So he returned.
Though there were no facilities to deposit thin-films here, he brought a
spectro photometer, used to measure optical properties of thin-films,
worth a millions of rupees, to Sri Lanka and donated it to the
University of Moratuwa. Optical properties of any thin-film can be
observed through this instrument. Yet, it is useless, without a film
He worked as a senior lecturer in the Department of Electronic &
Telecommunication Engineering, University of Moratuwa. He was the head
of the Department from 2003-2006. Not limiting himself to delivering
lectures, for years he conducted an environmental workshop at Sinharaja,
for engineering students. As Consultant to students’ projects, he
supervised both final and postgraduate research projects.
Once he designed a soft mortar, suitable for a lightweight electric
vehicle. That was a new design for 5-phase, in-wheel, axial flux, double
outer rotor, single double-side inner rotor, permanent magnet motor
architecture, which offers better torque and power characteristics and
matches the orientation of the general motor wheel, such that, it can be
directly mounted in-wheel. It mainly concerns the torque and power
characteristics, with the modeled speed variations of the electric
vehicles. Also, its increased overall efficiency, when used with the
electric vehicle, without the usage of drive chain, is addressed.
He launched an another project to design and develop a low cost voltage
regulator for micro-scale hydroelectricity generators, for rural areas,
where national grid electricity is not available. Most rural areas
depend on micro-scale hydroelectricity generators for electricity,
because of its low cost and availability. A major problem in this form
of power supply, is the lack of control of the power and voltage of
Most of them use simple voltage regulators based on fixed dummy loads,
which could be selected under house loading conditions. These regulators
are inefficient. Most of the time they cannot supply sufficient voltage
or power to operate high power household appliances. As solution he
developed a PIC micro-controller based voltage regulator that could
dynamically adjust the power supplied to the house and maximum power
when required. The remaining power is used for water heating processes.
His team successfullytested this technique with a 2KW synchronize
induction generator, supplying power to a medium-size house, under
various loading and unloading conditions of the household appliances
such as TV, smoothing iron and washing machine.
Dr. Munindradasa was an ardent wildlife enthusiast. He served society as
well as the fauna and flora. He designed a collar for elephants, instead
of the conventional electric fence around villages. Joining with the
Smithsonian Institute of America, he planted a chip with a GPS, to the
elephant collar, which helps to track the path of elephants. A map of
the boundary for the elephant was also installed in the chip. When the
elephant crosses its boundary and enters an area beyond its limits, it
receives a strong electric pulse generated from the collar, as a
warning. When this happens frequently, Amith believed that the elephants
would avoid those areas and limit itself to its own habitats.
He took to photography as a hobby, as a student and ended up by
introducing a Photography course for engineering students, linking
technology and arts for the first time in history. No doubt, he was the
top expert of still camera technology in Sri Lanka.
He was an expert in many fields. Other than his passion for
semiconductors, wildlife related electronics and mechatronics,
automotive electronics and acoustics were among his other interests.
Recently he expanded his scope to a completely a different field.
Working with Mr. Mendis Wickramasinghe, he described five new species of
geckos from Sri Lanka. Amith revived the genus Cnemaspis in the country,
by morphological comparison and morphometric analysis. New species were
named C.alwisi and C.kumarasinghei, from the intermediate zone,
C.retigalensis from the dry zone, C. molligodai from the lowland wet
zone and C.samanalensis from the mountain region of the wet zone. This
paper was published in ZOOTAXA volume 1490 – a prestigious international
He also designed a system to filter the acoustic data of frogs. In
addition to these researches, recently he was involved in the field of
nanotechnology. He tried to gather Sri Lankan experts working in that
field overseas, to build a national nanotechnology centre.
Unfortunately, he died on June 12, in a hospital in Tel Aviv, following
an attack of pneumonia, during an official mission. At the time of his
death, he was a consultant to the MoD of Sri Lanka. Researches he
conducted in the field of defense, are invaluable. His death is a great
loss to the nation.