Dr. Asanga Ranasinghe, professor of physical sciences, sponsors the STEM club on the Washington Street Campus and encourages all students to join. They meet on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. in the STEM research center, Room 103.
APD partners with AC to test drugs
By DAISY BURTON
Dr. Asanga Ranasinghe, Amarillo College associate professor of physical sciences, is working hand-in-hand with the Amarillo Police Department to help keep the city safe by keeping narcotics off the streets of Amarillo – all because of a casual conversation over a cup of coffee.
“I had talked to the APD officer, Matthew Adams, during a morning coffee meeting on how they test their illegal drugs,” Ranasinghe said. “I mentioned to him about the capabilities we have at AC’s STEM Research Center. Then immediately, he connected me with the APD narcotics division and Lt. Clay Rolan, Officer Thomas Hightower and Agent David Olaya from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Since then, I have been assisting them on a case-by-case basis to test the illegal street drugs.”
Ranasinghe said AC’s STEM Research Center has all the equipment needed to test and confirm the presence of illegal drugs from specimens. So, the APD will have the advantage to move forward quickly on illegal drug-related cases without waiting months.
“Usually in the traditional route, when the illegal drugs were found, they were sent to DPS labs in Dallas or Houston to test,” Ranasinghe said. “But these labs are overwhelmed with so many specimens arriving on a daily basis and it could take up to six months to get the results back for APD.”
This assistance has already proven itself to be beneficial for APD. “Asanga was very responsive any time that we reached out to him and asked him to come by the lab to test suspected fentanyl pills on more than one occasion. This immediate testing ability provided us with the needed confirmation to assist in how we continued with the investigations and it certainly provided us with the level of safety that is needed when testing and handling fentanyl,” Clay Rolan, lieutenant of the APD covert and tactical operations unit, said.
While this testing is helpful to APD, it is also helpful for many students in STEM at Amarillo College. “One of the main goals is to train AC students in science disciplines on various analytical instrumentation in chemistry and use over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol and ibuprofen type medication as a model to get them familiarized with the instruments,” Ranasinghe said. “Also, I have been demonstrating to the students in the AC STEM club the process of real-time testing of illegal drugs and how to analyze and confirm their presence. This way, they get the hands-on experience of the specific safety measures and protocols and cutting-edge technology toward using for their future careers as well as educational goals,” Ranasinghe said.
Students said they are excited about this project because it will help keep Amarillo safe. “I feel he is doing a great service to APD by testing narcotics for them,” Jordan Bennett, STEM club president, said. “I believe Dr. Ranasinghe working in conjunction with APD provides a facet of safety by mitigating the spread of these harmful substances.”