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Tribute to the late Prof Klaus Koch
Author: Media & Communication, Faculty of Science
Published: 24/02/2020

​It is with great sadness that the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science and the Faculty of Science learned about the passing of Prof Klaus Koch (66) on 2 January this year.

Prof Koch was a world-renowned analytical chemist in the field of platinum group chemistry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, with over 160 publications and more than 3 000 citations to his name. He retired at the end of 2018 after a career of 21 years at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and since 2000 another 19 years at Stellenbosch University (SU). Over the course of his academic career, he supervised over 70 postgraduate students, including 24 MSc and 30 PhD students at SU.

He has received numerous awards, most recently the South African Chemistry Institute's prestigious Gold Medal for his outstanding contribution to chemistry in South Africa. During his acceptance speech on 27 November 2019, Prof Koch quoted a passage from E.O. Wilson's Consilience: the unity of Knowledge, and made a plea for the development and preservation of the value of scientific analytical thinking. He concluded his speech with the following words: “In an increasingly rudderless, chaotic and fake-news infested populist world, the acquired reasonable 'truths' are continuously undermined and flaunted. We must do everything possible to bridge the chasm that separates scientific from pre-scientific cultures. Not science for science's sake, not for scientific stamp collecting, but to develop and preserve the value of scientific analytical thinking and its skills for the sake of our continued sustainable and agreeable future survival".

During a celebration of life memorial on 6 February 2020, Prof Peter Mallon described his former colleague as someone with an unbridled passion for his subject: “Somehow Klaus always found a way to squeeze in an extra few hours of NMR into the module. When confronted about this, he was absolutely adamant that he had already cut down as much as he possibly could and that it would be immoral and irresponsible for us so send out an Honours student who did not have the required level of understanding of NMR spectroscopy".

Prof Koch's passion for teaching will live on in the form of a bursary for a BScHons student in chemistry: “Shortly before his death last year, Prof Koch came to see me to make sure that his remaining research funds be used to create a bursary. I believe the Klaus Koch Chemistry Honours Bursary is a fitting way to acknowledge his legacy and enormous contribution to our department. He will be remembered by colleagues and students as an outstanding researcher, scientist and teacher," he concluded.

Prof Louise Warnich, dean of the Faculty of Science, said Prof Koch's legacy will also live on in the Department's flagship outreach initiative, SUNCOI, which he established in 2013 with Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus. The initiative helps learners from under-resourced schools with their prescribed chemistry practicals in the Department's labs over weekends.

Dr Stephen Woollam, manager of refining technology and technical solution at Anglo American, wrote in an e-mail that they had a lasting relationship with Prof Koch over many years: “Klaus touched so many people's lives in such a meaningful way and we mourn with you the loss of a brilliant mind."