Celebrating 100 years of Chemical Engineering at UCT
Chemical Engineering at UCT has its origins in the late 19th Century spurred by South Africa’s need to develop skilled professionals to support the bourgeoning minerals sector. Explosives, extractive reagents, and energy security were all critical to placing South Africa at the forefront of this evolving industry. This is not dissimilar to stories which unfolded elsewhere in the Global South at that time. Australia was challenged likewise (with The University of Queensland’s Chemical Engineering at the fore), and South Africa’s University of Witswatersrand programme paralleled that of UCT. South American countries and New Zealand followed a while later, and the rest of the Global South more recently.
UCT Chemical Engineering celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. 1920 was the first year in which an explicit curriculum for Chemical Engineering appeared in UCT’s Engineering Faculty prospectus. The first Chemical Engineering degree was awarded in 1922 under an Engineering Faculty umbrella. Following this, Chemical Engineering students were awarded their degrees in Applied and Industrial Chemistry until the mid-1950s when the Department of Chemical Engineering came into being as an autonomous entity.
The department's existence spans a century of massive transition in South Africa. From a political and social ideology which denied access to tertiary education for the majority of its population, and made it doubly challenging for those who did gain entry; an economy which benefited only a few; and a selective infrastructure built on monopolies; the country, post 1994, is now a multicultural democracy that competes in the global economy. We remain in this evolutionary mix. Now, more than ever, the skills and critical judgement of engineering professionals are needed.
As we look to a future characterised by rapid technological change, rising social expectations, and profound environmental challenges, we need to ask: How do we best position the Department going forward? UCT Chemical Engineering has always been a visionary department within UCT's Engineering Faculty. It has championed research in areas which are critical to the region and demonstrated this relevance globally. It has built its teaching platform on “a practice-based” and “research-led” pedagogy, and has been at the forefront of transformation and redress in academic development over a considerable time. We want to take this opportunity to reflect on this history and build on it for the future. What have we achieved? What have we learned? What do we aspire to now? And how does our history help us build a robust and resilient department fit for the future? This is where we would welcome your perspective.
Centenary publication: A launch pad for the next 100 years
In celebrating the centenary of Chemical Engineering at UCT, we aim to produce a well-researched and detailed centenary publication that captures its remarkable story for posterity. We will seek out and celebrate the visionary stewards of this key department, along with the alumni achievers whose professional endeavours are delivering meaningful impact across the globe. At the same time, we will use this moment as an inflection point - an opportunity to look towards our future and to understand how we can build on this legacy to create a department that continues to be relevant and directed to addressing the fundamental challenges of 21st century living.
Your support can help us realise our aspirational goal of “1:5:50”: that UCT Chemical Engineering remains No 1 in Africa and aspires to be in the top 5 across the Global South, and in the top 50 of all Chemical Engineering Departments globally.
We have already gathered a significant amount of historical material, but we will need the input of others to help make this history more relevant and interesting for current and future readers. We want to showcase the "stories behind the story" and recognise that Chem Eng would not have been the success it is without the vision, purpose and energy of the many people who stood behind its development. Throughout the book we will weave stories and anecdotes of the people of UCT Chemical Engineering and showcase the many men and women all over the world who share a common history here. And those insights will help us shape our collective future.
We aim to cover the following elements in this history. Parts 1 to 4 will inform our visioning exercise. Part 5 will look to the future:
Chemical Engineering in the global context
South Africa: its evolving economic, educational and development landscapes
The UCT Story: the people; the numbers; leading by research which addresses contemporary challenges; being agile; building networks; striving for excellence
Transformation and academic development
The Future: maintaining relevance, helping to set the agenda, and continuing to strive for excellence
What can you do to help?
As an alumnus/a of UCT Chem Eng:
This is an opportunity to acknowledge the formative role which UCT Chemical Engineering has played in your professional development; and to help shape its future. You can get involved directly by contributing both funds and ideas to this campaign. By helping us to write and produce this history you will be playing a vital role in our visioning exercise for the department. We would also love to receive any old photographs and anecdotes to include in the book. But, and most importantly, we would like to solicit your views on this evolving vision. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
For our network of stakeholders:
This is an opportunity to support the premier Chemical Engineering Department on the African continent, to ensure the continued delivery of well-trained, skilful and enthusiastic graduates, to take on critical 21st century challenges.
The Department of Chemical Engineering is part of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.