Viranga Perera

Postdoc at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

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I was born in Sri Lanka and due to the then ongoing civil war, I immigrated to the United States with my family when I was thirteen. Since moving to the U.S., I have had a tremendous education as a result of some truly excellent teachers and professors. I went to middle and high school in beautiful South Pasadena, California. I then attended Cal Poly Pomona for my bachelor's degree, UC Santa Cruz for my master's degree, and Arizona State University for my Ph.D. Currently, I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and I conduct research on the early evolution of the Moon.

My desire to study and conduct research in science is a natural extension of my childhood antics. I was not always “good at school,” but I was endlessly curious about how things around me worked. As a child, playtime was experimentation. I heated copper sulfate to watch blue crystals change color. Why? It was because my mom bought me things like that to play with and gave me the latitude to investigate for myself. At that time it was not chemistry to me, it was just captivating and fun. My pursuit for knowledge was not limited to what I now know to be chemistry. For example, I took apart game consoles, toys, VCRs (back when those were around), and other electronic items just to see what made them work. To the annoyance of my parents, I had little interest in putting things back together! Slowly my curiosity transitioned from a way I used to spend my childhood to an academic discipline and field of study. I got into “school” only because I wanted to have a formal background to many of the things I had stumbled onto as a child. A particular combination of wires, batteries, and light bulbs became a series circuit where once it was just something I had put together to see what would happen.

In the future I would like to fuse my interest in science and education to work in a career that focuses on helping students from all backgrounds think scientifically. That ability is a skill that can be learned and is something that is relevant even if a particular student does not end up working in a traditional scientific field. I truly believe the quest to have a more scientifically literate population is worth pursuing since it would lead to a better society in the future.