COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (GPI)-- “I have learned so much by trying to develop my own invention,” says Chandula Padmasiri, a 19-year-old student at Colombo’s Ananda College. “Not just about electronics or mechanical things, but about researching information, how to design something, and even my presentation skills have improved.” In 2009, Padmasiri created a microscope that operates from a mobile phone, which he showcased at the exhibition. “It basically converts an average camera phone into a powerful microscope,” he explains. The small plastic attachment fixes onto the camera phone, where the user can insert a slide with a sample. The camera mode of the phone then shows a magnified image – up to 1,200 times – of the sample. The production cost of the plastic microscope is between 500 rupees ($4) and 1,000 rupees ($8), Padmasiri says. Its mobility could aid doctors working in rural areas, where they can’t immediately access laboratory facilities. “I think that doctors who run medical camps in rural villages or even researchers who have to take samples of water for testing and so many others would find this mobile microscope useful,” Padmasiri says. Since the phone’s camera mode displays the image of the sample, a user can capture the magnified image as a photo or even as a video and send it in real time to a consultant or a laboratory elsewhere. Padmasiri created the first prototype of this mobile microscope when he was only 15 years old. “That year, we had started using microscopes at the school lab, and we really liked to use it and we had a large amount of microscope usage in our syllabus,” he says. But the microscopes in the school lab were available only a few hours each week. “So I wanted to develop a microscope that had a good magnification level and was also cheap, and you could take it with you anywhere,” he says. This young inventor has won several awards in addition to the opportunity to showcase his work in October at Sahasak Nimavum, the first national inventors exhibition, in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. In addition to exhibitions like this, he says that more hands-on learning is necessary to fuel innovative energy among Sri Lankan youth. “The education system doesn’t support or encourage young people to innovate,” he says. “What we mostly do is follow books, books, books – nothing else. In other countries, you learn by doing. But in Sri Lanka, you first learn and then try to do it.” Innovative youth in Sri Lanka are creating inventions to help their communities and to try to earn an income. But an unsupportive culture and a lack of access to funding hamper youth’s pursuit of innovation. New government initiatives are aiming to change that through exhibitions, clubs and competitions. But they require a shift in society to recognize the mutual benefits of inventions so that it supports and invests in innovation as well. Parliament established the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission in 1979 under the Sri Lanka Inventors Incentive Act. The government tasked the commission, which currently functions under the Ministry of Technology and Research, with creating opportunities for inventors. The commission organized the first national exhibition in October to showcase inventions and innovations of Sri Lankans, says Deepal Sooriyaarachchi, commissioner of the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission. The three-day exhibition convened 921 exhibits covering 22 fields. Inventors of all ages from across the island nation featured their work, with more than half under age 20.