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As an EXCEL Scholar in the fall semester, Pujitha Weerakoon ’04 (Kandy, Sri Lanka) used mathematics to study the geometry of fish in motion. He assisted Rob Root, associate professor of mathematics, in his ongoing research.

“Puji enhanced the model developed by my previous EXCEL Scholar, Bruce Adcock ’01, to incorporate the insights of a Geman morphologist, Sven Gemballa,” says Root. “Gemballa has been studying the geometry of tendons in fish. Tendons are essentially the ropes that muscles pull on to move body parts, so tracking tendons is also a means to track the distribution of forces in the body of the fish. In short, Gemballa’s work suggests that, for some fish at least, the skin is a crucial element in transmitting force to the wiggling tail.”

For Weerakoon, an electrical engineering and math double major, the work gave him the chance to apply his mathematical talents.

“This project provided me with an excellent opportunity to enhance my mathematical skills,” he says. “It was challenging to come up with a model that represents the way fish propel themselves in water.”

Root found Weerakoon well able to meet the challenge. “I’m impressed by his intelligence, his mathematical breadth, and his initiative,” he says. “I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to work with him.

The work enhanced an already solid mentoring relationship that began in the classroom. “Professor Root was my teacher in two courses,” says Weerakoon. “His way of teaching was so eloquent that by the end of the semester I had no hesitation in asking to work under him, and luckily for me, he accepted my proposal.”

“One reason I chose Lafayette was because it had excellent research opportunities for undergraduates,” he adds. “My cousin, who studies at Yale, had no hesitation in pointing out that Lafayette was probably the best place I could be if I wanted to pursue my academic goals. I am very happy with how things are going.”

Weerakoon is a resident adviser and a professional dancer who has toured Europe and Asia. He was a member of the three-student team that finished third in last year’s spring semester Barge Mathematics Competition.

Categorized in: Academic News