This is to announce that Rohan Pethiyagoda, one of our Fellows has been awarded the Linnean Medal, which awarded annually by Council of the Linnean Society of London, to one or two biologists (in any field), as an expression of the Society’s esteem and appreciation for service to science. His citation on the society website (https://www.linnean.org/the-society/medals-awards-prizes-grants/the-linnean-medal) reads as follows:
Mr Rohan Pethiyagoda has been an employee of and advisor to the government of Sri Lanka, serving as Chairman of the Water Board in the 1980s. His 1991 monumental Freshwater Fishes of Sri Lanka was hailed as a landmark achievement, treating the island’s diverse ichthyofauna more comprehensively and authoritatively than ever before. Over the next decade both Rohan and his Wildlife Heritage Trust (WHT), set up with the profits from the book, became synonymous with the exploration, discovery and documentation of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity and the wider application of this to enhance biogeography of the broader region. His program of original and collaborative research (both Sri Lankan and overseas) has resulted in publications on many zoological groups in addition to fishes. His impact on biodiversity research in Sri Lanka and beyond through his output and catalytic influence cannot be overestimated.
The Society and Medal are named after the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). The medal has been awarded since 1888, and this is the first time a Sri Lankan has won it – so many congratulations to Rohan. It gives me great pleasure to announce this because Rohan was in school with me. Both his degrees are in engineering (as are mine), but that’s where the similarity ends! For an engineer to be globally recognized as a Zoologist is truly remarkable – Rohan also won a Rolex Award for Enterprise in environmental conservation in 2000.
If I am permitted to comment on this, it may be worth pondering the fact that many outsiders to their fields have made huge contributions to science. John Dalton, who is known as a chemist because he proposed the law of multiple proportions in which atoms combine to form molecules, had previously published books on meteorology and English grammar! And Einstein himself was a mere clerk in a Swiss Patent Office when he published his four seminal papers in 1905 – the papers probably became seminal only because Max Planck, an established academic, took notice of them. So we should perhaps beware of guarding our disciplinary boundaries too fiercely!?
Professor Priyan Dias