Welcome to Stellenbosch University

More than a hundred years of science

​The Faculty of Science is an established and leading institution with a proud tradition of teaching and research that dates back to its earliest beginnings in 1866. The following section gives a short overview of its early history, developments since 1918, and the Faculty of Science today, including a complete list of all deans of science since 1918.
The comprehensive history of SU's Faculty of Science since 1866 has now been documented in text and pictures, to be published in September 2018. If you would like to pre-order a copy of the book, send an e-mail for more information.

Early history

The origin of the Faculty of Science dates back to 1866, when courses in Mathematics and Natural Science formed part of the education offered at the Stellenbossche Gymnasium (today's Paul Roos Gymnasium). The tertiary division of the Gymnasium, the so-called Arts Department, was established in 1874 after a change in legislation which replaced the former Board of Examiners with the University of the Cape of Good Hope. 
In 1881 the Arts Department received College-status and became known as the Stellenbosch College. In 1874 the Scotsman, Professor George Gordon, was appointed as the first professor of mathematics and natural sciences. At the time, there were only two professors in the Arts Department. In 1875 there were five students registered for the BA-degree, of which only one graduated. In 1878 HJL du Toit became the first student in the Cape of Good Hope to obtain an MA-degree in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy under Professor Gordon's supervision.  In 1887, to celebrate Queen Victoria's fifty years on the throne, the College's name was changed to Victoria College.


Victoria College's Department of Language and Science was originally housed in a small building which still exists today on the corner of Plein and Ryneveld Streets in Stellenbosch. In 1893 Prof William Thomson described it as “a two-roomed thatched cottage that leaked with every shower in winter". The scientific equipment for its Laboratory for Experimental Sciences was stored in two wall cupboards of a few cubic feet each. In 1886 the college relocated to the Old Main Building (“Ou Hoofgebou"). This building quickly became too small, and in 1903, on the initiative of Professor John Todd Morrison, the Jan Marais Building for Physics was completed.
 In 1918 the status of Victoria College changed to that of the University of Stellenbosch, with the Faculty of Mathematics and Science as one of the four established faculties of the new institution. In 1957 the faculty was renamed the Faculty of Science.

The Natural Sciences Building was the second building after Education to be completed in 1916 opposite the old rugby field. It housed the Departments of Zoology, Botany, Geology and Applied Mathematics. The second building, the De Beers Building for Chemistry, was completed in 1923. Over time, six buildings for the science faculty was constructed along Merriman Street. These buildings still house the original academic departments for which they were intended: the Merensky Building for Physics (1940), the First Year Chemistry Building (1957), the Chamber of Mines Building for Geology (1963), the Anatomy and Physiology Building (1957) and more recently, the JC Smuts Building for Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics (2000).


​Since 1918

When the University of Stellenbosch was established in 1918, disciplines such as Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Zoology and Botany were already well-established. In 1922 the Department of Physiology was established with Professor PJ Battaerd as head, followed by the Department of Home Economics in 1925 with Miss Ivy van der Merwe as lecturer. In 2001 the unbundling of this department led to a BSc-stream in Textiles and Polymers within the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science.

In 1969 the Department of Mathematics introduced a one year course in Computer Science and in 1970 the Department of Computer Science was established with Professor George Murray as its first head of department.

The Department of Biochemistry was established in 1974 after the merger of the division biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry with the Department of Agricultural Chemistry. Professor JH Barnardt was the first head and Professor JL de Wit the first professor in this new department.

The origin of the Department of Microbiology as we know it today dates back to 1918 with research activities in the Department of Plant Pathology in the Faculty of Agriculture.  The main thrust of research was to isolate and study fungi important to the agricultural sector. In 1958 Professor Hennie Louw became the first South African scientist to obtain a PhD in microbiology. In 1961 the Department of Plant Disease Studies and Microbiology became two separate academic departments, with Professor Louw as the first head of the new Department of Microbiology. In 1997 the Department of Microbiology became part of the Faculty of Science.

Over the past two decades the departmental structure of the Faculty of Science has changed significantly in order to keep up with growing student numbers, changing academic needs and international trends.

In the early 2000s the Departments of Botany and Zoology strengthened their research focus areas by merging into the much larger Department of Botany and Zoology. Within the Mathematical Sciences greater synergy between different research fields was created with the merger in 2006 of the Departments of Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Computer Science to become the Department of Mathematical Sciences (Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Computer Science). Previously, Applied Mathematics and Computer Science resorted in the Facuty of Engineering.

The Central Analytical Facility (CAF) was established in 1995 with seven large analytical instruments. Today researchers and postgraduate students have access to state-of-the-art analytical equipment, supported by highly-skilled technicians. This includes a CT scanner, DNA sequencer, Electron Microscopy, Fluorescence Microscopy, Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry and X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy, Mass Spectrometry, Neuromechanics, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance.

​Faculty of Science today

The Faculty of Science's mission is to expand the natural sciences through high quality training and research, and to contribute to the well-being of the South African society and environment.

The Faculty maintains a strong ethos of outstanding research: 73% of our researchers have been rated by the National Research Foundation, and the faculty is home to eleven research chairs, including eight SARCHi research chairs. Several of the research chair holders are world leaders in their respective fields.

In 2004 the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology was awarded to the Faculty of Science. In 2006 the faculty acquired another two centra of excellence: The South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA) and the National Institute for Theoretical Physics (NITHeP).

In 2010 the Stellenbosch University Water Institute (SUWI) was established on initiative of the then dean, Professor Eugene Cloete, to synchronise the many water research groups within the greater university environment. The aim is to drive the development of technology, innovation and further research to tackle the challenges faced in a water-restricted country.
In 2016 a bio-informatics specialist was appointed to establish an inter-faculty Centre for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. The appointment of Professor Bubacarr Bah in the Humboldt Chair in Big Data Analysis at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in 2017 will further strengthen this initiative. 

Deans of science - 1918 to present

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Prof L Warnich
2014 - 

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Prof TE Cloete
2009 - 2012


Prof ​D E Rawlings (acting)
2008, 2012 - 2013

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Prof A van Jaarsveld
 2002 - 2007


Prof FJW Hahne 
1991 - 2001​

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Prof C Engelbrecht
1988 - 1991

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Prof  JA de Bruyn
1977 - 1991

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Prof MJ de Vries
1974 - 1976


Prof WL Mouton
1970 - 1973


Prof SRF Göldner


Prof EFCH Rohwer
1967 - 1968 

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Prof.C.A. du Toit
1957 - 1959, 1966 

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Prof GG Cillié
1963 - 1965 

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Prof AC Cilliers
1960 - 1962

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Prof HE Brink
1954 - 1956 

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Prof JM Joubert
 1947 - 1953 ​

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Prof.CGS de Villiers 
1931 - 1935, 1945 - 1946 

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Prof GC Nel
1929 - 1930







Prof ET Stegmann
1925 - 1927

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Prof DF du Toit
1920 - 1924; 1936 - 1944

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Prof JT Morrison
1918 - 1919


Prof G Gordon

First professor of mathematics, Victoria College 1874