Sri Lankan science mentor ”who left UK for better opportunities in the United States” felicitated by Obama

An Indian-American and a Sri Lankan-origin scientist and teacher are among fourteen individuals and one organization named winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

Andhra University graduate Murty S. Kambhampati, a professor of biology at Southern University at New Orleans, and Sri Lankan origin Tilak Ratnanather, an associate professor in the biomedical engineering department of the Johns Hopkins University, Maryland will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year.

“These educators are helping to cultivate America’s future scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” President Barack Obama said announcing the names of the award winners Friday.

“They open new worlds to their students, and give them the encouragement they need to learn, discover and innovate. That’s transforming those students’ futures, and our nation’s future, too.”

The PAESMEM is awarded by the White House to individuals and organizations to recognize the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering-particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields.

In addition to being honoured at the White House, recipients receive awards of $10,000 from the National Science Foundation. The mentors and organizations announced Friday represent the winners for 2012 and 2013.

Kambhampati holds a PhD from Jackson State University in Environmental Science and a PhD from Andhra University, India in Ecology.

Over the years, he established excellent collaborations with several institutions to place students for summer internships and ecological field trips according to his profile. He is an active research mentor for undergraduates and is Southern University at New Orleans’s Beta Kappa Chi/National Institute of Science chapters’ sponsor. He has won several awards for his work as a mentor, including the National Role Model Faculty Award from Minority Access, Inc., in 2008. His research interests are Phytoremediation, Environmental Toxicology, ecological studies on coastal ponds, and Environmental Biotechnology.

OBAMA AND RatnanatherOriginally from Sri Lanka, Ratnanather is at the forefront of the relatively new field of computational anatomy, an emerging discipline at the interface of geometry, statistics, and image analysis.

His current research interests include shape analysis of brain structures in schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and deafness in addition to mathematical and computational problems in cochlear and cardiac physiology, according to his university profile. (IANS)

Expatriate success stories

Until the DDA became law in the U.K. in 2002, the provision of assistance was dependent on the kindness of individual tutors. Tilak Ratnanather, now an assistant research professor in the department of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, had a very helpful admissions tutor at his university in the United Kingdom. His tutor’s assistance was “impossible to quantify in terms of the benefits I reaped in the first year of my undergraduate degree,” he says. The tutor “arranged for a set of lecture notes to be sent to me before each semester started. He also informed all [his other] lecturers that they would need to use the radio hearing-aid system.”

Today, Ratnanather supervises and manages 10 projects covering topics including schizophrenia, autism, and auditory disorders.

He left the United Kingdom, he says, not because of discrimination but for better opportunities in the United States. “I might have ended up as a lecturer in the U.K., but I would not be doing the kind of cutting-edge work that I do now,” he says. “In the U.S., I have the freedom to pursue the things that interest me without the encumbrances of fiscal problems in U.K. science–though these do exist in the U.S. now.”

J Tilak Ratnanather – Associate Research Professor, Center for Imaging Science

Associate Research Professor
Center for Imaging Science,
Department of Biomedical Engineering,
Institute for Computational Medicine,
The Johns Hopkins University

Campus address: Clark 308B;
Phone number: (410) 516-2927;
E-mail: tilak AT cis DOT jhu DOT edu

Research interests

  • Shape analysis of brain structures including hippocampus, cingulate gyrus, planum temporale, superior temporal gyrus, auditory cortex and prefrontal cortex which are implicated in neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, major depression, speech and language processing.
  • Physiological fluid mechanics of the cochlear outer hair cell.
  • Nonlinear partial differential equations e.g. EPDiff in Computational Anatomy, Webster’s Equation in bioacoustics, boundary layer separation in physiological flows.
  • Mobile and web applications for auditory training for people with hearing loss using cochlear implants and/or hearing aids.
  • Online webcourses in applied mathematics.

Research questions

In the dawn of the Computational Medicine era, we are pursuing these questions:

  • how different is the shape of the hippocampus in the adolescent female with a risk for depression?
  • how can schizophrenia affect thinning in the planum temporale?
  • how is it possible for a profoundly deaf child to play music to a high level?
  • how can demyelination affect connectivity between structures in the brain?
  • how can stress affect the cochlear outer hair cell wall and thus the cochlea?
  • is it possible to examine how the deafened brain functions with hearing aids?
  • how do we limit the number of CT scans a child undergoes?
  • can MR scans be used to predict outcomes in cochlear implantation?
  • which part of the left ventricle is affected in sudden cardiac death?
  • can we quantify the effect of stroke on speech and language?