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Appreciation - Prof. Manthri Ramasamy
Manthri was always joyful, positive and caring
Manthri Samaranayaka entered Visakha Vidyalaya in 1954, after a year at Ladies College.

Daily Mirror - Thu Mar 26 2003

Participation in many activities in junior school, such as Brownies and oratory, and an innately warm heart, helped her form many lasting friendships at an early age.

In time the little Brownie became a Girl Guide and finally a Ranger.

In 1964 she received the Juliette Low friendship award to spend six weeks at a Girl Scout International Round-Up in California where she created a strong impression and made many friends.

Her father, the late A.D.H. [a former Government Examiner of Questioned Documents] and her late mother Susila [well known Buddhist social worker] recognized Manthri's exceptional gifts and provided the required support and encouragement.

In her later school years Manthri was elected President of the Science Association, the Debating and English Literary Society and the Buddhist Society. She was also an active Netball player and a talented actress. Recognizing her abilities, Visakha was selected to be Head Prefect. When she left school, Manthri carried away the Junius Jayewardena memorial prize for the best prefect, the Helena Wijewardena prize for leadership, the OGA prize for the best Visakhian and the Adrian De Abrew Rajapakse shield for the best all round student.

Being satisfied in doing science, Manthri entered the University of Colombo Science Faculty and graduated with First Class Honours in Zoology in 1970. She then joined the Department as an Assistant Lecturer.

In 1972 Manthri obtained a prestigious Commonwealth scholarship and went to the University of Cambridge to research for a PhD degree under the supervision of Dr. Simon Madrell, FRS.

She worked on the physiological mechanisms of the desert locust, authoring several sole-author publications as a graduate student, and obtaining a PhD in 1975.

She was among the first batch of female students at Churchill College, Cambridge as it became a co-educational College despite strong resistance from the male-dominated Fellowship.

While at Churchill, she met and married Ranjan Ramasamy, a graduate student at Christ' College, Cambridge. After her PhD, Manthri worked at the Strangeways Research Laboratory in Cambridge for 2 years with Professor Abercrombie, FRS.

Manthri then travelled extensively with her husband and daughter (Maheshi Nirmala was born in 1977 in Colombo) combining being a mother and wife with a career in science. A particularly productive scientific period was spent as a Staff Scientist at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology [ICIPE] in Kenya, where she made several pioneering contributions on the physiology of the Tse-Tse fly [that spreads African sleeping sickness or trypanosomiasis]. Later at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia, she initiated equally important studies on blocking the transmission of viruses and malaria parasites to mosquitoes.

Manthri was strongly attached to her parents and siblings [Anula, a physician, who was also a Head Prefect at Visakha and Hemanatha, a banker], school, Sri Lanka and the many friends here. Even whilst working abroad, she returned frequently to Colombo, met all her friends, former teachers and helped establish a network of Visakhians in many countries. She was therefore overjoyed to return in 1989 to the Institute of Fundamental Studies [IFS] in Kandy where she was to remain until the end.

At the IFS, she transformed mainly empty rooms into an Animal House and a working laboratory of Entomology. Her many papers on mosquito-malaria parasite interactions, based on work done in her IFS laboratory, are published in well-known entomology journals and constitute landmark scientific discoveries. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and a member of the American Society for Entomology. A dedicated and loyal group of graduate students, pre-university students and technicians attached to her laboratory contributed in no small measure to these achievements.

She did not canvass for appointments and distinctions and perhaps therefore lost out on due recognition of her achievements and contributions to science to some extent.

Her greatest satisfaction came from helping others and was she was happiest to see some of her former students and colleagues doing well in their careers. She was also happy to help her old school progress in many ways, being actively involved in OGA activities [briefly as President], producing plays at school [Fiddler on the Roof] and delivering the Susan George Pulimood Lecture [in 1995].

Despite her illness, Manthri continued her science at the IFS as a full Professor, to the end, although she faced great difficulties in the process.

One outstanding recent contribution was to work with one of her PhD students [now a lecturer] in solving a long-term puzzle regarding the identity of the mosquito that transmits malaria in Sri Lanka.

Until her work, only subspecies B of the predominant malaria transmitting mosquito Anopheles culicifacies had been identified in Sri Lanka.

However the problem was that subspecies B [which could only be distinguished from other subspecies by examining stained chromosomes in a microscope] was well known to be a very poor vector of malaria in India. Manthri and her student Surendiran solved this puzzle by showing that there were two subspecies in Sri Lanka, termed B and E, that only differed in a minor aspect of the Y sex chromosome of the mosquito. They showed that subspecies E was responsible for malaria transmission in Sri Lanka and that this was more resistant than B to the insecticide Malathion.

Besides research and teaching, Manthri's contributions to science extended to participating in the work of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, first as Sectional President and later as General Secretary.

It is therefore very appropriate that Professor Uma Coomaraswamy, the President of SLAAS during Manthri's tenure as General Secretary and the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University should deliver the first Professor Manthri Ramasamy memorial oration on 17 February, 2003 at 5 pm on the occasion of Manthri's birthday.

This would be a fitting occasion to celebrate her life, which was always joyful, positive and caring of others, until she was taken away for higher things on January 18, 2002.
- A colleague