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Siromi Samarasinghe
Works at University of Sri Jayewardenepura
Attended University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka
Lived in Sri Lanka
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Siromi Samarasinghe

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The chemistry of the "smell of old books"

+Rich Pollett  shares this interesting post about the chemicals that give off the 'old book' smell.
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+Siromi Samarasinghe - Sometimes I think I know too much about what the future holds. I spend a lot of time hiding under my desk, rocking back and forth with my knees clutched to my chest, and mumbling to myself. ;-)
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Siromi Samarasinghe

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On The Shoulders of Giants

♀ A sepia print of an Indian woman, a Japanese woman and a woman from Syria, dated 1885. What do they have in common? Extraordinarily, each was the first licensed female medical doctor in their country of origin. They were trained at the Women's Medical College in Pennsylvania, the first of its kind in the country. This was a time before women had the right to vote. If they did attend college at all, it was at the risk of contracting "neuralgia, uterine disease, hysteria, and other derangements of the nervous system” (according to Harvard gynecologist Edward H. Clarke). 

An all-woman medical school was first proposed in 1846, supported by the Quakers and the feminist movement. Dr. Ellwood Harvey, one of the early teaching faculty, daringly smuggled out a slave, Ann Maria Weems, dressed as a male buggy driver, from right outside the White House. With his reward money, he bought his students a  papier maché dissection mannequin. Eventually, poverty forced him to quit teaching, but he still helped out with odd jobs. What a magnificent man!  

Fate and fortune were to buffet Ms. Joshi's life. Married at age 9 to a man 11 years older, her husband turned out to be surprisingly progressive. After she lost her first child at age 14, she vowed to render to her "poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician". She was first offered a scholarship by a missionary on condition that she converted to Christianity. When she demurred, a wealthy socialite from New Jersey stepped in and financed her education. She is believed to be the first Hindu woman to set foot on American soil. I didn't arrive until 1983 ;)

Times were tough then. The fate of these three intrepid pioneers was a sad one. Joshi died of tuberculosis in India at the age of 21, without ever practicing. Fittingly, her husband sent her ashes back to America. Islambouli was not heard of again, likely because she was never allowed to practice in her home country. Although Okami rose to the position of head of gynecology at a Tokyo hospital, she resigned two years later when the Emperor of Japan refused to meet her because she was a woman. 

Times have changed. My own mother was married at the age of 13 to a man also 11 years her senior. My father recalls helping my mother with her geography homework in high school. She never did attend college, despite being a charismatic woman with quicksilver wit and efficiency. Little wonder then, when I was accepted into graduate school in the US, unmarried and 21 years young, my parents staunchly stood behind me against the dire predictions of friends and relatives ("She'll come back with a yellow haired American!" "Haven't you read Cosmopolitan magazine? They are all perverts there!"). Happily, I escaped perversion, earned my doctoral degree and even gained a supportive spouse of my own. In 2004, I became only the 103rd woman to be promoted to Professor in the 111-year history of the Johns Hopkins medical school, and the first in my department, the oldest Physiology department in the country. If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants

#STEMwomen   #ScienceEveryday  

More reading:
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The Beauty of Frangipani

Nestled in white clusters in a canopy of green
They greet me every morning with a fragrance so sweet
Known as Frangipani, ‘Araliya’ or Plumeria
Beautiful maidens wear them in their hair
Golden yellow centers blending into white
Nature’s gift, what an inspiring sight!
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Both of those fragrances were everywhere during those couple of decades in the US.  As I recall the patchouli we used was an essential oil, pretty much straight from the plant.  
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Thanks for the helpful comments to identify the mushrooms, +John Condliffe and +David Nicholl. 
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In her circles
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May you have a peaceful and joyous “Aluth Avurudu”  (Sri Lankan New Year)

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns today and is celebrated throughout  Sri Lanka.

Some of the traditional sweetmeats:
Kavum:  Oil cake, made with rice flour, treacle and coconut milk, fried in oil.

Kokis: A crispy and sweet food made from rice flour and coconut milk, believed to have been introduced by the Dutch. The batter is first poured into molds and then deep fried in coconut oil.

Aluwa: (White rectangular pieces in the photo) made with treacle, sugar, rice flour and added spices.

Mung Kevum: Made with a mixture of rice flour and Mung flour, with treacle and deep fried in coconut oil.

Delicious food!
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+Heshan Wijegunaratne Obatath esema wewa!
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Yes.... +Siromi Samarasinghe :)
That's how I explain my name to my foreign friends also... :)
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Chemistry of Coconut

✿ The coconut tree is considered as a great gift of Nature to mankind, especially in the tropical Asian Pacific countries where people have been reaping its benefits throughout the ages.

What is so special about the Coconut tree is that almost all parts of the tree are utilized by humans for their basic needs – food, shelter and medicine.

✿ In Sri Lanka, it is traditionally used in religious ceremonies, in cultural events and festivals. Coconut oil is used as a fuel to light lamps by dipping a wick in the oil. The young leaves or fronds are used as decoration for festivals, and the inflorescence ('flower') is used in cultural ceremonies, at traditional weddings to bring good luck to the couple.

✿ Many health benefits are attributed to the unique composition of the oil obtained from the coconut kernel.

✿ Coconut oil is a liquid at temperatures around 25C and above.  Refined coconut oil is almost colourless whereas crude unrefined oil is a golden yellow.  It has a long shelf life, stable to atmospheric oxidation, due to its low degree of unsaturation.

✿ More than 90% of fat in coconut is saturated fat. Therefore it has earned a bad image as being an oil which is harmful to health, since saturated fats are known to contribute to cardiovascular disease. However, this same property of  high saturation is responsible for its health benefits, because the saturated fats that are present in coconut are made up of mostly Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFA) rather than Long Chain Fatty Acids.

✿ What are saturated medium chain fatty acids?
Carboxylic acids having 8 to 10 carbon atoms,  without any double bonds between carbon atoms are known as saturated medium chain fatty acids. The MCFA in coconut oil are  Caprylic acid, Capric acid and Lauric acid.
Coconut oil has more MCFA than other vegetable oils such as olive oil, soyabean oil, palm oil, groundnut oil  and sunflower oil.

✿ Of the MCFA,  Lauric acid is the major component, (48.9%) in coconut oil. Monolaurin, a derivative of lauric acid has antibacterial properties and is used in food and cosmetics.

✿Coconut oil is extracted from the kernel of the coconut. Commercial method is  by mechanical extraction from copra (dried kernel) . Domestic extraction is mostly by boiling coconut milk (water extract of kernel) and separating the oil.
We come across two main types of coconut oil in the market, based on its processing. RBD coconut oil is “Refined, Bleached and Deodorized” The other type is Virgin Coconut oil which is made by wet processing, without any drastic heat treatment as with the other types of extraction.

✿ Coconut oil is used in margarine manufacture by blending with other vegetable oils and by the  chemical modification of its components. The melting point of vegetable oils is raised by a process called hydrogenation, or 'hardening' resulting in a semisolid product.

✿ Hydrogenation converts unsaturated fatty acids in the oil to saturated fatty acids thereby elevating the melting point of the oil. Partial hydrogenation results in the formation of trans fatty acids by altering the natural configuration of some of the unsaturated fatty acids in the oil. The negative aspect of the process of hardening oils to semisolid fats is the formation of trans fats. Trans fats are known to  increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, coconut oil has a very low chance of producing trans fatty acids than some other vegetable oils, e.g. sunflower oil and canola oil,  which contain poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). This is because coconut oil has a lower amount of unsaturated fatty acids (the components that produce trans fats when partially hydrogenated).

✿ Another important industrial application of coconut oil is in the production of biodiesel. The process involves a method known as transesterification which converts the oil (esters of glycerol) into methyl or ethyl esters of the fatty acids (‘biodiesel’).

Coconut water too has many uses. It is consumed as a beverage, the water of the King Coconut being a refreshing drink in the hot weather of the tropics. It is used as a re hydrating drink due to its  unique balance of electrolytes.

✿The inflorescence of the coconut tree contains a sap which is rich in sugars. The sap is collected and allowed to ferment resulting in an alcoholic beverage  - Toddy. The fermented sap is distilled to produce Arrack, a spirit with a taste usually described as "somewhere between whisky and rum". It is generally distilled to between 33% and 50% alcohol by volume (ABV) or 66 to 100 proof).

✿The fermented  sap from the inflorescence is used to produce coconut vinegar. Under aerobic conditions the ethanol  in Toddy is converted to acetic acid by Acetobactor spp (acetic acid bacteria).

Coconut shells are used to produce charcoal which is used in industry as an adsorbant. In this process shells are burned in a limited supply of air and are carbonized. (Destructive distillation)
Shells contain lignin (29.4%), Cellulose (26.6%) Pentosans (27.7%), which break down at high temperatures, yielding charcoal, pyroligneous acid, tar and gas. Compared to hardwoods, coconut shells are lower in cellulose, higher in lignin.

✿ A great gift of Nature to mankind, the coconut tree is unique in its composition.

Knowing the chemistry of its component parts and the application of chemistry in its utilization makes us appreciate the coconut tree more and more as the Tree of Life

Useful link for chemistry of coconut oil:
#sciencesunday #scienceeveryday
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A comprehensive description of the coconut tree and its usefulness.
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Mesua ferrea (Ceylon ironwood)

The young leaves of the Ironwood ("Na tree" in Sinhalese), which is the National tree of Sri Lanka.
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A thousand fuschial daggers
Stabbing at spring
Staving off winter
And the chill that it brings.
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In her circles
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University lecturer
  • University of Sri Jayewardenepura
    Associate Professor in Chemistry, present
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Sri Lanka - Leeds, UK
I'm a Chemistry lecturer  with a passion for science.  I teach food chemistry and courses related to phytochemistry at a leading university in Sri Lanka.  My research interests are in tea chemistry and medicinal plants. I am also interested in photography and  archaeology.
My posts are mostly on science, I contribute to Science Sunday regularly.
I also post about Archaeological sites I have visited in Sri Lanka.
I love nature and have spent most vacations visiting the wildlife parks in Sri Lanka.
Here are some links to my posts:


I blog at
Bragging rights
Survived the University system for 40 years.
  • University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka
    B.Sc., 1969 - 1973
  • University of Leeds, UK
    PhD, 1978 - 1980
  • Chemistry of Tea Flavanoids
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