Two words describe Lakmini Premadasa’s experience when she first moved to the United States in 2011: culture shock.

Having just graduated from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka with a degree in molecular biology and biotechnology, Premadasa moved to Greensboro to pursue a PhD in nanoscience at UNCG and NC A&T’s Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (JSNN).

For Premadasa, everything about life in the U.S. was different.

“There’s so much freedom here,” she said. “Indian culture is very conservative, so that was a big change for me.”

Premadasa, who graduated from UNCG on May 6, was originally drawn to JSNN because of Dr. Will Taylor’s research on HIV.

“I’ve been interested in HIV/AIDS ever since I was in high school,” she said. “I knew I wanted to continue that work as a PhD student. When I found Dr. Taylor’s profile online and started to communicate with him, I knew it was a great fit.”

Premadasa has spent the past five years studying the HIV-1 nef gene alongside Taylor and Dr. Jan Ruzicka. Taylor and Ruzicka started this research two decades ago, with a goal of understanding how HIV causes disease. The research could help lead to a cure.

“I’ve learned so much from Dr. Taylor,” Premadasa said. “He’s been a great advisor and has helped me so much professionally and personally.”

According to Premadasa, the quality of the program can be credited to its interdisciplinary nature. Students in the PhD program study nanochemistry, nanophysics, nanomathematics and nanobiology.

And the program doesn’t just help students grow academically and professionally – it also shapes who they are as individuals.

“I’ve become so independent,” Premadasa said. “I’m so much stronger and I’ve received so much support from the faculty and the other students in the program.”

Premadasa is currently interviewing for positions at research labs in North Carolina and California. What’s her dream job? Working for an organization where she can make a difference.

“I want to do something really big,” she said. “I want to do something special for AIDS patients.”


Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Relations
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Relations