Eric L. Fonseka
âA tale of serendipity and the mystery and chemistry of colourâ
The Eric L. Fonseka Memorial Oration on âA tale of Serendipity and
the Mystery and Chemistry of Colourâ will be delivered by Dr R.O.B.
Wijesekera, a former student of Prof. Fonseka on Tuesday, June 5, 2007
at 5.00 p.m. at Admantane House, No. 341/22, Kotte Road, Welikada,
Rajagiriya. The oration is organised by the Institute of Chemistry
(Ceylon) and sponsored by Link Natural Products (Pvt) Ltd.
ORATION: Eric L. Fonseka was the Professor of Chemistry at the
University of Ceylon, Colombo, during the period 1951-1973, when the
country had only one single University and also one Professor of
It was during his regime that the proposal to shift the Faculty of
Science to Peradeniya and to thereby create a second Department of
Chemistry was finalised. He presided over the transfer of the department
to Peradeniya while retaining his leadership role in the Colombo
A dynamic and colourful personality, Prof. Fonseka was a great
communicator and as a teacher of the subject rendered a unique service
to the fraternity of chemistry. He by his very manner enticed students
to study chemistry as a subject.
His initiation of a generation of men into chemistry was made with
great aplomb and dedication, and the success of our pioneering chemists
in post-independence careers was indeed a just tribute to him.
He researched under the incomparable âGreatâ of organic chemistry the
Nobel laureate Sir Robert Robinson O.M. FRS when the latter was
Professor of Chemistry at the University of London and subsequently
spent sabbatical terms with him at the Dyson Perrins laboratory at
Oxford University. His subjects of interest were the colouring matters
of plants, anthocyanins and betalains.
After retirement from the University, Prof. Fonseka served a term as
the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the then CISIR, during the
time when one of his students Dr L.G.Ponnamperuma was Director. He also
served as the Chairman of the State Sugar Corporation and passed away in
the 1970s after a prolonged spell of ill health.
The oration will describe the unique case of serendipity, (accidental
discovery), where a young chemist aged 18 years in 1856, produced the
very first synthetic dye namely Mauve.
The chemist W.H. Perkin, later to become Sir William Perkin, became
one of the most distinguished chemists of all time, and the one who is
credited - along with Thomas Alva Edison - to have been the âInventors
Perkinâs discovery led to the vast modern synthetic chemical
industry, which encompasses the Fragrance, the Pharmaceutical, the
Polymer, and the Dyeing Industries and are the basis of modern life,
together with the communications industry, similarly pioneered by Edison
The Eric L. Fonseka Memorial oration will be very ably delivered by
Vidyajyothi Dr. R. O. B. Wijesekera, a scientist of international
acclaim whose expertise in science and technology and industry has been
eagerly sought by organisations all over the globe.
He has won a number of awards and accolades for his work amongst
which have been the Guinness medal for scientific achievement in
international recognition of his high standing in the research community
and a Honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the University of
Sheffield, UK in 1997.
Presently he serves as a Consultant to Link Natural Products (Pvt)
Ltd. and was previously the Chairman of CISIR and also the first
Chairman of NASTEC.
Dr. Wijesekera, will provide a snapshot review of the chemistry, the
mystery and, the utility of some of the chemical entities that are
responsible for natural colour, including those that were coveted dye
stuffs in the pre-Perkin era. Many of these are still valued today some
not matched by even the bewildering array of synthetics.
âA tale of serendipity and the mystery and chemistry of colourâ will
undoubtedly be of immense interest not only to chemists but to all who
depend on the inspiring presence of colour in business, science and