Vidyajothi Professor A.W. Mailvaganam (1906 – 1987)
Arumugam Wisvalingam Mailvaganam was born on 13th November 1906 in a little village called Suthumalar. His parents were tobacco farmers. His family experienced great misfortune losing two children at infancy and one at the tender age of 14. Young Mailvaganam grew up with two others, an older sister and a brother.
Prof. Mailvaganam’s early education was at Jaffna Central. After winning the Governor’s scholarship in May 1920, he was admitted to Royal College, Colombo. In 1921 he passed the Cambridge Junior with a First Class, in 1922 the Cambridge Senior with a First Class and in 1923 Matriculated in the First Division. In 1923 he won the de Soysa Science Prize at Royal and came next to winning the Evans prize in Mathematics.
In 1924 he won a scholarship to the Ceylon University. In 1926, at the age of 19 he obtained a B.Sc. (General) degree with First Class Honours, coming first in Sri Lanka. On these results, in 1927 a government scholarship took him to Cambridge for a three-year specialist course in Physics.
In 1930, he passed the Cambridge Natural Science Tripos (Physics) with First Class Honours. His performance merited him three awards – a Senior Scholarship, an Internal Research Studentship and the Tripos Prize. While he was conducting experimental research at Cambridge, in 1932, he was called to take up his first academic position as a lecturer at the University College, Ceylon. On returning to Ceylon, he continued his research and in 1938 he was awarded a Ph.D. (Cantab) based on his research carried out in Ceylon. In 1939, he was chosen for the Chair. He was also twice elected Dean of the Faculty of Science (from 1948 to 1954).
In his Cambridge days (1927-1932), he was fortunate to work under two Nobel Prize winners – C.T.R. Wilson and Earnest Rutherford.
On March 25, 1987, the media announced the death of Prof. A.W. Mailvaganam.
Prof. D.U.J. Sonnadara
Extracted from the book “Five Dons”