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Professor Gehan Amaratunga’s University of Moratuwa Convocation Address


Professor Gehan Amaratunga

“A commencement speech or commencement address is a speech given to graduating students, generally at a University”. This is how Wikipedia describes a commencement speech. The commencement speech made by Steve Jobs at Stanford University Graduation Ceremony 2005 is considered as the best commencement speech done during a graduation ceremony.

University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka had held their 2013 graduation ceremony on July 2013. The Convocation Address, as they say, had been done by one of the most sought after Professors in the world, when it comes to sustainable energy solutions – Professor Gehan Amaratunga.

I found his address as interesting and attractive as the commencement speech of Steve Jobs. It is with great pleasure I post his speech, while thanking to University of Moratuwa authorities for documenting his valuable speech and circulating it.

Speech Made by Professor Gehan Amaratunga at the General Convocation 2013 – University of Moratuwa

Salutations Vice Chancellor,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all I would like to thank the University of Moratuwa for giving me the honour of addressing the graduating Class of 2013 in Engineering.

Graduation after the successful completion of your degree is indeed a watershed in your life.

In many ways it is a completion of formal education and a license to enter the world of work as a professional.

It is also a staging post in your personal adventure in the engagement with life. The twists, turns and ascents which lie ahead cannot be predicted.

But one can be prepared to take on a professional adventure. This you undoubtedly have successfully achieved by way of gradating today.

What I want you to expect is a sense of adventure and exhilaration which can lie ahead as you advance in your career.

In fact I would urge you to always seek a sense of professional adventure. This will keep you forever young in terms of intellectuality by always learning, learning not just to acquire new information, but also on how to use it wisely and in a timely manner for maximum benefit.

I can share you some of my experiences on how my career developed after I graduated in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Cardiff University  34 years ago!

After graduation I was uncertain of what I should do professionally.

But having got a First, I was in the fortunate position being offered a studentship to read for a PhD at Cambridge University, which I took on without really having any clear idea of what research entailed, let alone how tenacious, hard working, opinionated and dedicated one had to be to complete a PhD.

I also learnt that all the subject areas I had not liked in my undergraduate course, were the very ones I had to be expert at for research. I am certain that you too will find this out when you start working.

So do not throw away your 2nd and 3rd year notes – you will have to refer to them again! On competition of my PhD I discovered that I had enjoyed and been successful at research.

I had been trained to attend a problem which I did not have any specialist knowledge on, to acquire all the require background information across disciplines and to use it to come up with new insight and solutions.

The actual content of my PhD, which was on missile electronic systems, was not that important. But what was important was the process I had gone through and the skills I had acquired to achieve it.

My success at research meant that I was inducted in to the modern monkhood. That is to say, I became a University lecturer!

While the pay one got in the UK as a lecturer in the eighties was not attractive, what was is the freedom one had to follow one’s own ideas.

To be successful at exploiting such a freedom requires discipline and also a sense of entrepreneurial adventure to look at research opportunities which others have not identified or have ignored.

Research in Engineering, as in Medicine, is only really validated when it is applied for societal benefit.

Therefore extension of my research to application was something I started to passionately believe in. This in turn led naturally to formation of my first start – up company Cambridge Semiconductors (CamSemi), an IC company specializing power management, with venture capital investment.

To date it has shipped in excess of 1 Billion ICs and the chances are that if you have a Nokia or Blackberry phone, a CamSemi chip will be controlling the AC/DC charging of the battery.

My career after graduation had in 20 years taken me from academic to entrepreneur.

Over the past 10 years I have been a founder of a further 4 start – up companies spanning solar electronics, nano materials synthesis and wind power. Two of them have products on the market at present. One of these companies, Nanoinstruments, which makes equipment for the synthesis of carbon nano tubes and grapheme, was started in 2005 with a Sri Lankan student of mine who did Bachelors in Physics at the University of Colombo, Nalin Rupasinghe. We started the company without any capital and the first workshop was a garage/barn. In just two years after starting, the company was acquired by a major German semiconductor equipment manufacturer, Aixtron. Nalin became a millionaire and continues to work for Aixtron. I site this as an example of what entrepreneurial flair a new Sri Lankan graduate, such as your selves, can display when having to succeed in another country. It is time for you to release the same entrepreneurial spirit in Sri Lanka to make it a technologically exciting place.

My research has also thrive and allowed me the freedom look at new problems. It is currently focused on nano electronics and energy storage.

I am now entering the third phase of my career, which I can best describe as sharing wisdom and nurturing a future generation of ingenious innovators, such as those who will rise out of this very graduating class.

In this context I have taken leave from Cambridge to be the Chief of Research and Innovation at the newly formed Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology. What is really invigorating is that this has allowed me to be directly engaged with some of the most urgent problems for humanity to be sustained on the planet, such as green agriculture and enhancing food yields to water purification through the application of nanotechnologies.

The opportunities are immense and the problems are urgent.

You are starting your career at a time when the priorities are very different. For example, when I graduated no one could have imagined that the Soviet Union would not exist and the cold war would be consigned to history. The topic of my PhD missile electronics was influenced by the priorities which prevailed.

 Today the key priorities are sustaining the planet while we continue to enhance living standards for 4 billion people and growing in the developing world.

A key question which you will have to address and solve during your career is : ‘Can we have continued economic growth through consumption, for example such as ever more sophisticated and prevalent consumer electronics, without destroying the planet?’

The question is sobering.

But while we do not know the answer at present, I am certain that with your ingenuity and commitment we will be able to reinvent or transform engineering as we know it today to become sustainable and economically viable.

So to reiterate, what lies ahead is a career adventure.

Embark upon it with a sense of wonderment and enthusiasm.

Sustain your career by always being committed to enjoying what you are doing and having the ultimate aim of ‘making something better than what it is today’.

The most important thing is have fun in your career. Life will then automatically sort itself out!

I wish you all the very best for the future with all my heart.


  • University of Moratuwa General Convocation – Convocation Address Booklet

Nest – A Company with “APPLEness”


Nest Protect – Reinventing the Smoke Detector

I believe it is ok to say that APPLE Inc. is another name for INNOVATION. Apple Inc. can be considered as the most innovative organization in 1st decade of 21st century. That is because, whenever Apple Inc. has come up with a product it has revolutionized the field that product belong to. iPhone, iPad and iPod are prime examples to prove it.  Some people believe that Steve Jobs as the reason for Apple’s success in technological innovation. There can be a truth in that. But how many engineers, designers, developers, etc might have put their efforts, ideas, etc to make those products a success?  

Tony Fadell is one such person who has put all his efforts to make Apple iPod a success. Tony Fadell once ran Apple’s iPod division and was part of Steve Jobs’ inner circle. To head iPod division and to work closely with Steve Jobs there should be something special about Fadell.


Tony Fadell – The Founder and CEO of NEST. Fadell once ran Apple’s iPod Division. Due to that he has that APPLEness in him.

Now Tony Fadell has become an entrepreneur. He has started his own company named ‘Nest’with the support of a few investers – Google Ventures, Generation_, LightSpeed Venture Partners and Shasta Ventures. What Fadell says about Nest is as follows. “We take the unloved products in your home and make simple, beautiful and thoughtful things”.

The first ‘unloved’ thing Nest has chosen is the ‘smoke detector’. It is very hard to see smoke detectors in homes in most developing countries, though it is the case with developed countries. But in each country almost every commercial building has smoke detectors. When I saw the images and the idea of Fadell I had doubts in my mind. But the way he has given the thought about smoke detectors is completely different from the way I lead my thought process.

When he was asked about the reason for him to go for a product like a smoke detector he has replied by saying “Why not smoke detectors? Why hasn’t there been any innovation since the ’70s in smoke detectors as far as I can tell? They look basically the same. They do basically the same thing. And they annoy you the same as they did the ’70s when I was growing up. You know, they beep at night. They’ll beep and go off when you’re cooking, when you’re taking a shower”.

Steve Jobs and Apple revolutionized the way computer is being used in 1980s. The same combination revolutionized the music industry with the introduction of iPod. In 2007, with the introduction of iPhone, same combination revolutionized whole mobile phone business and data business all around the world. Being an Apple’s ex employee Fadell also seems to be having the revolutionary mind set. He and his team has the idea of revolutionizing the way a typical home is functioned. With the use of available technologies such as internet, mobile phones, etc Nest expects to revolutionize the way people are typically connected to their Homes.


Nest Plans to do What Apple Does. They are planning to revolutionize the way people engage with their homes.

Fadell says that smoke detector launched by Nest, namely ‘Nest Protect’ and the previous product to Nest Protect – ‘Nest Learning Thermostat’ are only the starting point of the revolution. Answer to the question whether Nest would become successful or not could be seen in coming years. But Fadell and his team is quite certain about their success. It is quite clear from following statement which has made by Fadell. “Absolutely. Look, we’re talking about revolutionizing yet another category that you interact with at some point in your life or is part of your life. … We are passionate about … thermostats, and we’re passionate about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Why? That’s what it takes to reinvent categories. You need to have the passion. This isn’t just about business. This is about changing our lives and changing your lives to make it better.”

Nest is a company which is trying to grab a ‘Blue Ocean’ through continuous innovation and R&D. When looking at the things that they are trying to achieve one would say there is nothing extraordinary in the idea. But the specialty is in the way these people have knitted the existing resources and the concept of theirs. When looking at the concept they will use the networks of Telecommunication Service Providers heavily. That is to make the connectivity between the devices they are going to use in the solution. At the end of the day any operator could name Nest’s solution as a value added service. In near future Nest will come to your country as well. I say so because, Fadell says that their product can be seen in 90 odd countries.

So, if we could apply some Appleness to our thinking, with the great telecom infrastructure available in most parts of the world anyone could come up with a multibillion dollar idea. Finally it would be good to look at what Fadell says about his past involvement with Apple. As per him that is the place where he has learnt about ABCs of entrepreneurship.

“Apple was an amazing experience. And many of the people here are from there. And the biggest lessons we learned is about experience, right? It’s all about creating experience. Not just a product experience, but a sales experience. How do you learn about the brand experience? About how people communicate the experience they have to their friends and family. You know, I learned before coming to Apple about how you could make a great experience in the product. At Apple, [I learned] how you sell it. How you package it. How you unbox it. All of those things were key to the experience, and what we believe we’re doing here at Nest.”