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October 2018

Ivan Attanayake

Commodore Eng. Dr. Ivan Attanayake

Electrical & Electronic Engineering 1969

1.  Tell us about yourself. 

I am Commodore Eng. Dr Ivan Attanayake SLN (Rtd.). I was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) near the harbour on 2 May 1943 during the 2nd World War, exactly one month after the invading Japanese fighter aircraft from an aircraft carrier 200 km south of the island bombed, flattened and destroyed the entire city of Colombo in the early morning of Easter Day.

I was educated at St Peters College, Colombo 4, then Ceylon, a leading Christian Public School.

At the age of 19 years I left the shores of Ceylon on my own in a Royal Dutch Airlines aircraft and landed in London, England, 13 hours later. The next morning I visited a newspaper booth in Golders Green, London, purchased all the local newspapers, and browsed all advertisements pertaining to jobs in electronic engineering companies in the United Kingdom.

After applying for 48 suitable jobs during a period of three months, I was called for an interview with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, New Street, Chelmsford, Essex. This happened to be the world's first electronic and radio communications equipment manufacturing company established by Signor Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel Prize winner in 1909 for his involvement in wireless radio communications. I was selected at the interview and I served in the Radio Communications and Radar Divisions of this company as a Staff Officer for eight years. During evenings I attended the nearby Mid-Essex Technical College (now Anglia Ruskin University) and studied Electrical & Electronic Engineering when Mr D H Ray was the Head of the Department. I graduated after six years and was elected a Graduate Member of the Institution of Electronic & Radio Engineers, London, England.

On completion of my studies in Electrical & Electronic Engineering I returned to then-Ceylon and enlisted in the Regular Force of the Royal Ceylon Navy as a Lieutenant in the Electrical & Electronic Engineering Branch. Thereafter I served in naval warships and naval shore establishments in the island for 25 years as an electrical and electronic engineer in various capacities, including as the Director of this branch at Naval Headquarters, Colombo. During this period I also studied at the University of Moratuwa a for Master of Engineering (MEng) degree in Electrical & Electronic Engineering. I was elected as a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London (MIEE, London) and as a Chartered Electrical Engineer (C Eng). Thereafter when I finally retired from the Navy, I also read for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) research degree in Organic Photovoltaics at the University of Moratuwa. This was done in order to help poor people living in rural areas of Sri Lanka to provide solar panels for mounting on their roof tops to provide electricity especially at night for illuminations with CFL bulbs, ventilation with fans, educational facilities with personal computers and colour television sets for entertainment. This would improve their living standards and make their lives comfortable, and help to reduce poverty with local government monetary and material relief measures already being provided.

At present I am carrying out a postdoctoral research project at the University of Moratuwa, investigating how to reduce the cost of organic solar panels.

2.  What is your fondest memory at Anglia Ruskin University?

The day I graduated in Electrical & Electronic Engineering from Mid-Essex Technical College, located less than ½ km from Signor Guglielmo Marconi’s Radio Communications equipment manufacturing company – Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company. It was a historic day for me, walking in the footsteps of this great man who won the coveted Nobel Prize for Physics.

3.  What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate?

Read the notes your lecturers give you very carefully when you go home on the first night to get them to your memory, and then make it a habit to get up about 5am every morning when your mind is fresh after a good night's sleep, and carefully read them at least three times to absorb and retain them in your biological computer which is superior to any other man-made electro mechanical computer.

4.  What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst you were studying?

Getting an honours first degree from a prestigious British university like Anglia Ruskin, irrespective of your field of specialisation, will stand you in very good stead throughout your entire life.

5.  How did your time at Anglia Ruskin help you?

It helped me greatly to believe in myself, and to give me the confidence to tackle any situation in life boldly and with enthusiasm.

6.  What did you love about your chosen course?

Since the age of about ten, my hobby was electronics (to design and develop novel electronic gadgets), hence to make it my profession in life was very enjoyable. I also had three ambitions in life: one to become an electronics engineer or chemical engineer; the second to enlist in either the Royal Ceylon Army, or Royal Ceylon Navy or the Royal Ceylon Air Force as such engineer and to serve my country; and the third to win the Nobel Prize for Physics for designing and developing a novel technique or system to greatly help human beings worldwide. I have achieved the first two ambitions (Electrical and Electronic Engineer in the Navy) and I will also win the Nobel Prize for Physics in the new future with God's grace.

7.  What would you tell someone thinking of studying at ARU? 

Leave no stone unturned until you achieve your aim.

8.  In one word how would you describe Anglia Ruskin?


9.  Who was the biggest influence on your career?

The late Mr Sweter Peiris, a veteran physics teacher at St Peters College, where I obtained a distinction in Physics at the GCE Ordinary Level Examination.

10.  What accomplishment are you most proud of?

When I was appointed as the Director of Electrical & Electronic Engineering Branch of the Sri Lanka Navy Headquarters in Sri Lanka and as the Principal Advisor in Electrical and Engineering to the Navy Commander.

11.  What drives you?

To design and develop at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, very low-cost 100-watt organic photovoltaic solar panels for mounting on the rooftops of poor people living in rural areas of Sri Lanka, and other developing countries to convert free energy from the sun to electricity, especially at night, to light up their homes with CFL bulbs, to operate fans for ventilation, to operate personal computers for educational purposes and operate colour television sets for entertainment, thus to make their lives comfortable. This will supplement the monetary and material relief measures already being provided by the respective governments to these unfortunate poor people to reduce their misery and poverty, especially in Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific Islands.