Process Engineering celebrates 50 years

“The Department of Process Engineering has its roots in a rather momentous and extraordinary year, 1969. In the same year, a monstrous Saturn V rocket gulped a combined volume of 3,5 million litres of kerosene, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to catapult three astronauts to the surface of the moon; a very special year indeed,” said Prof André Burger in his welcoming address at the Department of Process Engineering’s Postgraduate Conference. This Conference was held on 13 September to celebrate the Department’s 50 years of existence.

Prof Burger continues: “Half a century later, astute and internationally acclaimed researchers – proud products of this department – return to their alma mater as plenary and keynote speakers at this 50-year celebratory event. They, together with postgraduate students, will provide examples of the high-quality human capital and research work produced by the Department.”

The Conference was followed by a Gala Dinner at The Lanzerac Hotel in Stellenbosch where academics and industry partners celebrated the Department’s milestone in style. A highlight was when three former and two current academics were honoured with unique glassblown trophies their contribution, namely the late Prof Nico Louw (founder and exceptional contributor), Prof Jannie van Deventer (exceptional research contribution) and Carel Nel, Prof Hansie Knoetze and Prof Steven Bradshaw (all three for exceptional long-term contribution).

The Department of Chemical Engineering at Stellenbosch University was established in 1969 – 25 years after the Faculty of Engineering. Prof Nico Louw was the first professor and Chair of the Department. In 1977 the specialisation in Extractive Metallurgy was introduced and students had the option to do either a BEng (Chemical Engineering) or a BEng (Chemical Engineering – specialisation Extractive Metallurgy). This led to a separate Department of Metallurgical Engineering in 1985, but the two departments were again amalgamated in 1994 to form the Department of Chemical Engineering. In the early 2000s the name was changed to the present Department of Process Engineering.

Prof Hansie Knoetze, former Dean and acting Chair of the Department, says: “Prof Louw will be remembered for his work in developing the chemical engineering programme and developing study material in Afrikaans. He was joined by the first three senior lecturers in the Department, namely Carel Nel, Dr Eric Horsten and Dr Mike Connor. Prof John de Kock was appointed at the end of 1976 as the first professor in Extractive Metallurgy.

“Initially, the Department was housed in the old Engineering Building in Victoria Street (the present Visual Arts Building) and the laboratories were in the present Polymer Science Building. The Department moved to the present Engineering building in 1979, and by 2011 the student numbers increased to such an extent that the Annexe had to be added.

“An excellent undergraduate programme, dedicated academics and excellent laboratory facilities have always been a hallmark of the Department. Employers have always been very impressed with the quality of graduates from the Department.

“From the 1980s postgraduate education and research started to play an ever-increasing role in the Department.The first MEng degree was awarded in 1983 and Jannie van Deventer received the first PhD in the Department in 1985. Since then the Department has become known worldwide for the work in minerals processing/extractive metallurgy, bioresource engineering, separation technology, intelligent process systems, water technology and waste valorisation. At present three of the five academics with the highest Scopus h-factors in the Faculty are from the Department of Process Engineering, and the Department has awarded six DEng, 101 PhD and 393 MEng degrees.”

He concludes: “The Department is well-positioned and looking forward to the next 50 years to continue delivering excellent graduates and research that will contribute towards a sustainable and prosperous future.”

See the Conference Proceedings here (programme, plenary presentation, keynote presentations, abstracts of oral and poster presentations, and list of DEng and PhD recipients).

Photograph: From the left are Prof Steven Bradshaw, Prof Hansie Knoetze, Marius Louw (son of founder, the late Prof Nico Louw), Pia Nel (wife of Carel Nel), Prof Jannie van Deventer and Dr Eric Horsten.

Photo credit: Chanté du Toit.