Wickramasinghe studied at Royal College, Colombo, the University of Ceylon (where he graduated in 1960 with a BSc First Class Honours in mathematics), and at Trinity College and Jesus College, Cambridge, where he obtained his PhD and ScD degrees. Following his education, Wickramasinghe was a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge from 1963 to 1973, until he became professor of applied mathematics and astronomy at University College Cardiff. Wickramasinghe was a consultant and advisor to the President of Sri Lanka from 1982 to 1984, and played a key role in founding the Institute of Fundamental Studies in Sri Lanka.
After fifteen years at University College Cardiff, Wickramasinghe took an equivalent position in the University of Cardiff, a post he held from 1990 until 2006. After retirement in 2006, he incubated the Cardiff Center for Astrobiology as a special project reporting to the President of the University. In 2011 the project closed down, losing its funding in a series of UK educational cut backs. After this event Wickramasinghe was offered the opportunity to move to the University of Buckingham as Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, University of Buckingham where he has been since 2011. He maintains his part-time position as a UK Professor at Cardiff University. From 2015-2016 he was Visiting Scholar, Churchill College, Cambridge, England.
Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe was appointed Adjunct Professor in the Department of Physics, University of Ruhuna, Matara, Sri Lanka, in 2017.
He is a co-founder and Board member of the Institute for the Study of Panspermia and Astroeconomics, set up in Japan in 2014, and the Editor-in-Chief of a publication they produce, the Journal of Astrobiology & Outreach.
Asian Power 100 list (2005) named Chandra Wickramasinghe as one of the 100 most influential Asians living in the UK (#69).
From 1960-1980 Chandra’s contributions to the field of Interstellar dust led to a major paradigm shift from dirty ice grains to organic grains. In the 1980’s Chandra became convinced that Panspermia was the key to understanding life in the Universe and especially in our Milky Way Galaxy. Panspermia is the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by meteoroids, asteroids and planetoids. Panspermia is not meant to address how life began, just the method that may cause its sustenance.
The theory is not new. The first known mention of the term was in the writings of the 5th century BC Greek philosopher Anaxagoras. In the nineteenth century it was again revived in modern form by several scientists, including Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1834),http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panspermia – cite_note-4 Kelvin (1871), Hermann von Helmholtz (1879) and, somewhat later, by Svante Arrhenius (1903). Much to the surprise of most people even Charles Darwin was a proponent.
What WAS new, was the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe MODEL which lays out their own unique hypothesis which includes the required propositions for other scientists to conduct experiments and to assess evidence.
As Sir Fred Hoyle said in support of Karl Popper, “Prediction only counts in science”.
What has Chandra’s impact been?
Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe has championed Panspermia Theory since his early days as a Commonwealth Scholar Student at Cambridge University where he studied Astrophysics mentored by Sir Fred Hoyle. He eventually became a Fellow of Jesus College and a member of the Graduate Staff of the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy, University of Cambridge, 1966-1973 where he continued to work on these problems.
Chandra was never afraid to hypothesize theories which were academically “unpopular” or deemed “incorrect”. From the grand theory of Panspermia that life existed in some form everywhere across the Universe; to an even more contentious theory that meteorites likely participate in bring viruses and bacteria to earth.
His books and papers always provided visionary hypotheses, sophisticated reasoning and usually strong evidence. Chandra has a unique ability to understand and effectively combine the knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines. He has also communicated science in an eloquent way to the general public, publishing books, giving public lectures world wide, and recently lecturing on cruise ships.
Two of the world’s most challenging issues have benefited from his consultation:
- the threat that near-Earth asteroids are posing for the human race
- the threat that viruses and bacteria are also posing to human race
Today, Wickramasinghe is recognized as the father of modern-day astrobiology. He is certainly the person who has done most to influence the global development of this newly emerging science which builds upon a substantial knowledge-base from the quite separate disciplines of mathematics, physics, biology and paleontology.
World-wide Chandra’s research and papers on all aspects of the Theory of Panspermia are considered visionary. And finally in 2013 his assembled evidence for Panspermia is becoming mainstream science.
Wickramasinghe’s influence is global. His nearly 300 published scientific papers (over 70 in the highest impact journal Nature) and 31 books are a veritable catalog of the evolution of the emerging science of astrobiology, and of his undisputed role in this area.
In a paper written in 2004 he estimated there were 100 billion (10 power 11) earth-like exoplanets. This was before the Kepler Mission. At that time only 50 exoplanets were known.
In June 2013, NASA updated their estimates and announced there are likely 100 billion earth-like exoplanets. Quite astounding how Chandra had come to the same number through theoretical physics and mathematics 9 years earlier. Yet another hypothesis proven visionary and eventually accepted as “true”.
In 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland: lists “discovery of alien life (not necessarily intelligent life) as one of 5 high risks to the short-term (2013/14) global economy”. They advised the leaders of the world that the proof of life elsewhere in the universe could have profound psychological implications for human belief systems. Chandra with his multi-cultural heritage and understanding of the universe through both scientific and Buddhist “eyes” is well suited to participate in helping the world pass through such a time in our evolution.
How wide is Chandra’s influence?
The hypotheses of Chandra Wickramasinghe have touched scientists, students and the public world-wide.
He was featured in many TV programmes, including a BBC Horizon show in 2008, and Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel and History Channel science documentaries in the past 3 years. In 2013, he was flown by the Discovery Channel to Sri Lanka. A science program episode has been made for global distribution which will feature Panspermia and Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe’s recent developments.
What are Chandra’s achievements?
He has made scientific contributions that have could change the way we perceive the universe and our place within it. He has encouraged and stimulated students in the UK and the Commonwealth to participate in what can be described as the greatest of human endeavours.
- He continues to be one of the most active researchers in the new field of astrobiology and to write books (nearly 30 books to date) to as to make the beauty and excitement of his work accessible to the general public as well as to scientists in other fields.
- From being one of the first batch of Commonwealth Scholars to the UK in 1960 he became a Fellow of a Cambridge College and then was among the youngest to be appointed Professor and Head of Department at University College Cardiff in 1973.
- He started the first Research Centre for Astrobiology in the world and became its first Director in 2000.
- He contributed to science in the Third World by acting as Advisor to President Jayawardene of Sri Lanka in 1980-82, and setting up the Institute of Fundamental Studies in that country. He has also trained a large number of PhD students in countries of the Third World.
- He was awarded a Sri Lankan National Honour (Vidya Jyothi) equivalent to a Knighthood
Research Fellow, California Institute of Technology, 1965
Professor of Mathematics, Vidyodaya University of Ceylon, 1966
Visiting Professor at Universities of Arizona and Maryland USA, 1966-1970
Visiting Professor at Yukawa Institute, Kyoto University, Japan, 1969
Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge; Tutor, Jesus College, Cambridge a nd College Supervisor in Mathematics; Member of the Graduate Staff of the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy, University of Cambridge, 1966-1973
Visiting Professor at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada, 1974 and 1976
Director, Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka, 1982-1984
UNDP Consultant/Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka, 1982-1984
Visiting Professor at Institute of Space and Astronautical Studies, Japan, 1993
Visiting Professor, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston, 1994
Professor and Head of the Dept.of Applied Maths and Astronomy, Univ. Coll., Cardiff, 1973-89
Professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy 1990-2006
Director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology 2000-2010
Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, University of Buckingham, Buckingham, UK;
Professor, Cardiff University 2006-
Honorary Professor, University of Buckingham, UK 2011-
Visiting By-Fellowship, Churchill College, Cambridge, UK Academic year 2015/2016