“Just a normal girl” is most definitely not the phrase you’re looking for if you are to introduce her to someone who doesn’t know her.
Meet Ms Vihanga Munasinghe, a graduate student of Institute of Chemistry, College of Chemical Sciences. Short by stature but as cheerful as one can possibly be, she is one person whom you do not want to miss speaking to if you are at IChemC. Her simple way of life and friendliness has made her an amiable person among the various circles at the institute, from the lecturers to the freshmen.
She graduated this year (2016) with a First Class Honours from Institute of Chemistry, but there is more to her. She was the first in her batch winning the Shireen Jayasuriya gold medal for the best performance in all parts of the graduateship examination. If that is not impressive enough, there is the small matter of winning the awards for best overall performance in inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, organic chemistry and the best overall performance in all the practical examinations. A real life Hermione Granger one would say.
But she is more than that. Her acerbic mind has made her a good debater and she has been part of all four inter level and inter university debates of the institute since she stepped to the home of the chemists. Her lively personality has been engaged in the talent show Aura, CHEMEX exhibition, as a member and the financial director of the Rotract club. She has also been a part of the level 4 team who won the inter level Badminton Championship last year.
It is not a surprise that this combination of mind and the body won her the Second best all-rounder award. The reader might be thinking she’s an extraordinary human being by now. But fasten your seat belts, it gets even better.
She has achieved all this while being an undergraduate student at the faculty of Science, University of Colombo. And not just a student there either, she topped her batch in the first two years with a 3.98 GPA and has just finished the third year in her university life. She is specializing in Chemistry in the university and it is safe to say Sri Lanka has unearthed another great scientist in her. Her amazing performances paved the path for her to represent Sri Lanka in the Asian Youth Science Camp held in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore which was conducted by the Nobel laureates.
The fairytale story of her does not start at tertiary education. She was placed 20th from Sri Lanka in the GCE Advanced Level Examinations in 2011 but opted to do Science. When one asks her “Why didn’t you choose medicine?” she’d smile and say “I just want to be happy, and doing Science makes me happy”. Then she, being the good debater she is, would quote John Lennon to make it a clearer answer.
“When I was five years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down Happy. They told I didn’t understand the assignment. And I told them they didn’t understand life.”
She never forgets where it all started, and her parents would be the first people she would remember whatever she does. “They are the best parents one could hope for” were the words she used to introduce her parents to the IChemC family at the recent speech she gave at the Inauguration day for 38th intake of Institute of Chemistry. The lecturers who have taught to her mean a lot to her, and she says she looks up to them whenever she is in need of an inspiration, specially the late Prof JNO Fernando, who has been an idol for her at IChemC.
In the future, she is looking forward to follow the path of the people who inspires her and is hoping to pursue her career as an academic. And it is safe to assume that the scientific world will hear a lot more about her in the years to come.