Prof. Osmund Jayaratne -A lifetime of teaching

Prof. Osmund Jayaratne retired from the Physics Department, University of Colombo, after a long and distinguished career spanning 44 years. His primary research interest was terrestrial a cloud physics. In his teaching, Prof. Jayaratne mentored more than a thousand students. He also served Sri Lanka in the area of policy related to higher education.

This letter is an attempt to inform his former students that Prof. Jayaratne lost his sight as a result of infections in his eyes. We encourage students and well wishers to visit Prof. Jayaratne in his residence; he will appreciate your effort. The University of Colombo, Dept. of Physics has also established a supporting fund for anyone wishing to contribute.

A students perspective

A new batch of freshman undergraduates files into a hallowed lecture hall at the University of Colombo Physics Department. As others in the past, they too are captivated by the contagious enthusiasm of a lecturer who expounds on the physics of clouds. The teacher delivers a vivid example on the beauty of Physics in the context of natural phenomenon. Inanimate textbooks are given life.

Prof. Osmund Jayaratne, is engaged in an old tradition — providing the university freshman with a link to previous generations of scholars that wove the fabric of physics. The methods of analytical reasoning, logic and experimentation — the foundations of physics — are personified in his image.

The perpetually young teacher validates the students’ youthful passion for learning and understanding the natural world. These students will carry with them the archetype of a physicist’s reasoning, as they in turn become professors, academics and researchers at Sri Lankan and international institutions. Indeed, many students will migrate to different fields: engineering, computers, business and other industry. However, they will all have benefited from Dr. Jayaratne’s commitment to a lifetime of learning and teaching. They too would have learned to approach their study with childlike gusto in addition to a discipline of critical reasoning.

School years

Osmund Jayaratne showed promise from his childhood with a brilliant career at Royal College winning the Turnour Prize. He obtained the first position in the school at the Cambridge Senior Certificate Exam as well as the London Matriculation. Garnering eight distinctions in each exam, he was second in the island on both occasions.

Early teaching & research

He entered the University of Ceylon in 1942 — a year of historical significance since the University was born from the former University College in that year. Whereas the University College prepared undergraduates for the degree of the London University, the University of Ceylon began to award its own degrees. In the first year-end exam, Osmund Jayaratne was placed first in order of merit from about 150 students of Physical Science. Specializing in physics, he obtained a 2nd class honours degree in 1947.

After 10 years of teaching A/Level Physics in two private schools, he was appointed as an assistant lecturer in the Colombo University Physics Department in 1959.

In 1961, at the expense of the Colombo University, he was sent to the Cloud Physics Dept. of Imperial College, which was part of the University of London. He distinguished himself by conducting research into

the nature of coalescence processes, which create rain in warmer climates of the world. He had the distinction of having his experimental arrangement prominently displayed at a public exhibition of the Physical Society of London. This experiment is discussed in British scientific journals.

In 1964, Osmund Jayaratne was awarded a Ph.D. from the London University as well as the D.I.C. of Imperial College. One of his Ph.D. supervisors, Prof. B. J. Mason (F.R.S.), in later years became the Director General of Meteorology in Britain.

Returning to Sri Lanka in 1964, Dr. Jayaratne was transferred to the Physics Dept. of the University of Peradeniya. Here he spent a very happy time lecturing to students reading for both the Generai degree and the special degree in physics. He engaged himself in many other academic activities of this university. For instance, he was one of those who organized a very popular series of weekly lectures in science, social sciences and humanities. Attended by hundreds of students and staff, these lectures were later opened to the senior students of nearby secondary schools.

Dr. Jayaratne delivered the first lecture in the series on the subject of lightning and thunder accompanied by many demonstrations which created electrical sparks from end to end of the lecture theatre.

Policy & later research

The Hon. Minister of Education, in 1970, after reading an article written by Dr. Jayaratne in a popular local magazine, requested him to constitute a committee of academics to study the existing university system and propose possible reforms. Dr. Jayaratne was the chairman of this committee. As a result of the report, Act No 1 was passed by the Parliament and a single University of Sri Lanka was created; existing Universities becoming campuses (the system of independent universities was re-established later). The main university had its own Vice Chancellor, whilst the campuses were headed by Presidents supported by campus senates and councils as in the past. In the same year, Dr. Jayaratne was invited by the Government to become the President of the Colombo Campus. After many refusals, purely on account of the appeal of the Colombo students, Dr. Jayaratne finally accepted the position.

In 1974, after heading the Colombo Campus for two years, Dr. Jayaratne requested to be released from the post and to be returned to academic duties in the Physics Dept. at the Colombo Campus. By this time, Colombo Campus was also offering physics courses in both English and Sinhala. As an associate Professor in the Physics Dept., Dr. Jayaratne continued to teach at the Colombo Campus (University of Colombo later) through his retirement in 1991. Just prior to retirement, he was made Emeritus Professor of the University of Colombo. Later, he was also awarded the GSc Hon. Clausa of both the Universities of Colombo and of Sri Jayawardenapura. In recognition of his contributions to University teaching, he was awarded the title of ‘Vishwa Prasadini’ by the Hon Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike on the occasion of her 80th Birthday.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Jayaratne also conducted research on the lightning patterns of Sri Lanka in collaboration with Prof. Lakshman Kannangara.

Impact as a teacher

Prof. Jayaratne has probably mentored more than a thousand general science students and in excess of 100 honours students. As students, we were touched by Dr. Jayaratne’s passion for teaching; his ever-youthful enthusiasm and commitment also had a profound influence in our careers. Today, his students are dispersed nationally and internationally at prestigious institutions. They carry the flames that were kindled by Dr. Osmund Jayaratne.

Loss of sight

A few years after retirement, Prof. Jayaratne’s eyes developed cataracts. Lens implants, a new procedure in Sri Lanka at that time, were attempted. An infection occurred in one eye and spread to the other. Despite repeated surgical interventions, Prof. Jayaratne suffered complete loss of sight in both eyes — confining him to his home in a nearby suburb of Colombo. His wife, Joyce, is his eyes to the world. She reads to him the latest scientific developments reported in newspapers and magazines.


Prof. Jayaratne in spite of his disability is currently dictating his memoirs, which will be published soon. We wish our dear teacher the very best in the years to come. We also strongly encourage former students to visit him and keep him informed. As a person who was completely immersed in scientific and other literature for mental stimulation, Prof. Jayaratne’s world is now severely limited. Hence our plea for former students to consider visiting and sharing your experiences in your fields and give him the intellectual company he badly needs. Prof. Jayaratne’s phone number is (Sri Lanka) 074-833317 and home address: 25 Morawatta Road, Nagoda, Kandana.

This letter is an attempt to inform his former students that Prof. Jayaratne lost his sight as the result of infections in his eyes. We encourage students and well wishes to visit Prof. Jayaratne in his residence:

No. 25, Morawatta Road,



(Phone: 074-833317)

Students and well wishers may contribute to the below supporting fund graciously administered by the faculty in the Physics Department, University of Colombo.

The purpose of this fund is to provide some financial support to Prof. Jayaratne since medical expenses have exhausted his savings.

Bank drafts in favour of: Dr. W. M. K. P. (Kanishka) Wijayaratne and Dr. S. R. D. Rosa.

Saving a/c number: 0331-207-027347-7 Postal address for drafts:

The manager, Peoples Bank, Lucky Plaza Branch, Kollupitiya, Colombo 3 Sri Lanka.