Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
From two cupboards to 170 laboratories within a century
Author: Wiida Fourie-Basson
Published: 11/10/2018

​Only a hundred years ago, all the glassware and chemicals for the first professor of Mathematics and Natural Science's Laboratory for Experimental Sciences were stored in two small cupboards in a two-room building that is still standing in Ryneveld Street, Stellenbosch.

Today the Faculty of Science, one of the four founding faculties of Stellenbosch University, has grown to more than 170 laboratories in eight academic departments, housed in 13 academic buildings, with access to R226 million worth of state-of-the-art-analytical equipment.

During the Faculty of Science's centenary gala dinner on Monday, 1 October 2018, at Spier Wine Estate, Professor Louise Warnich, dean of the Faculty of Science, thanked the many staff, teachers, researchers, support staff and students who over the past one hundred years contributed to the faculty's achievements. The dinner also included the official launch of the Faculty's centenary book, A Particular Frame of Mind, Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University, 1918-2018.

Referring to the striking image of the molecular structure of a red garnet on the cover of the book, Professor Warnich said it provides an apt metaphor for the Faculty and its people: “Through their research, and will to knowledge, our scientists reveal the beauty of the natural world when they investigate intricate cellular infrastructures under a confocal microscope at nanoscale resolution, or when they master a new mathematical proof. But apart from being beautiful gemstones, garnets have many uses in industry. Likewise, science is applied in an amazing array of applications."

She reaffirmed the faculty's commitment to strengthen science and higher education in South Africa: “We have a proven track record in delivering some of the best postgraduate students in the country. We remain committed to developing the next generation of South African scientists – men and women who will become catalysts in creating the knowledge-intensive economy that is so crucial to South Africa's growth and development." Click here for the full speech.

Professor Wim de Villiers, SU Rector, congratulated the faculty on its many successes and achievements: “In future, the University needs to be a national asset that serves the diverse needs of our communities, with impact on our continent, and with global reach. We aim to become Africa's leading research-intensive university, and in realizing this bold ambition, the Faculty of Science has an indispensable role to play". Click here for his speech.

Dr Thomas auf der Heyde, Deputy-Director-General: Research, Development and Support with the Department of Science and Technology, said the basic sciences are the building block for applied science and technology, and universities are the training schools for the PhD-level researchers required for a knowledge-intense, innovation-driven economy. Click here for the full speech.

In a short overview of the centenary book, Professor Jannie Hofmeyr emphasized how important it is that universities today continue to foster this “certain frame of mind" that Professor James Shand referred to in a 1916 lecture, “The making of a university":

A university is not a lecture-theatre, or a library, or a laboratory; it is not a building or a place at all; its essence is a frame of mind. We hear much in these days of the “will to power": the true character of a university is the “will to knowledge". The real university is neither a collection of books, not a collection of buildings, nor a collection of lecturers; it is a collection of students who possess the will to knowledge – the will to possess it and still more the will to advance it. A university if constituted by its students, and by them alone. When I say students, I mean not only the temporary students who join the university for few years, but far more the permanent students who constitute its staff, for every professor worth his salt is a student to the end of his days. If the students are animated by the will to knowledge, there is a university; if they are not, if their studies are only a means to a selfish end, such as the learning of a narrow trade, the securing of a position or an income or an academic distinction, or the propagation of a favourite doctrine, then no university is there though millions be spent on staff and buildings and equipment. Where two or three are gathered together in the name of knowledge, there is a university.

He said the centenary book not only chronicles the endeavors of a century's worth of such excellent academics, it also contains a few amusing anecdotes, such as the first Professor of Chemistry, Berthault de St Jean van der Riet, who was nicknamed Oubaas Fenol because of his interest in essential oils; or Prof Robert Broom, first professor of Zoology in 1903, who defied Senate's wishes that he takes a roll call at each lecture. Here is a link to his speech.

During the festivities, Prof Warnich handed two centenary books in red leather slip covers to Prof. De Villiers and Dr Auf der Heyde.

On the photo above, Professor Louise Warnich, Dean: Faculty of Science, presented copies of the Faculty's centenary book, A Particular Frame of Mind, to Professor Wim de Villiers, Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, and Dr. Thomas auf der Heyde, Deputy Director-General: Research at the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Photo: Nardus Engelbrecht