History

The Department of Chemistry of the University of Johannesburg (previously Rand Afrikaans University) took in its first students in 1970. From the outset it was realised that a Department with limited manpower and infrastructure could significantly improve its outputs and contributions to science, in particular, and society at large by close collaboration with national and international science institutes.  Such collaboration was established and maintained with the Cancer Research Institute (NIA, Washington DC, USA), the Weitzman Institute, (Israel) ICI Pharmaceuticals (UK), and many others. Collaboration with other universities, which often included the exchange of staff and students, featured prominently in the activities of the Department. Long standing links were established with the University of Amsterdam, University of London (Imperial College, UK), University of Waterloo (Canada), University Basse and the  University of Zurich (Switzerland), University of Tel Aviv and University of Jersusalem (Israel). In addition, it became tradition to invite internationally recognised chemists to present “schools of chemistry” which were open to interested staff and students of all universities and research institutes.

This close collaboration stimulated research amongst students and staff and resulted in the establishment of strong research groups in the areas of catalysis, organometallic chemistry, spectroscopy analysis and organic synthesis. In turn, the research groups made some seminal contributions to the development of many areas of chemistry, including IR Surface studies or Fisher-Tropsch Catalysis (Prof B van Berge), synthesis (Prof J Koekemoer), metal-carbene synthesis and organogold chemistry (Prof H Raubenheimer). The application of modern methods and application of carbohydrates in chiral synthesis (Prof CW Holzapfel).

On a local level close collaboration was established and maintained with many research institutes including Mintek, Atomic Energy Board, and Sasol Technology research and development. Collaboration with Sasol featured particularly strongly being the whole of the short history of the Department.

It covered many areas of specialisation, including heterogeneous catalysis, organic synthesis and homogeneous catalysis, solid state chemistry and chemical analysis. This collaboration resulted in the training of more than 30 post graduate students who subsequently started their careers in Sasol, many of which now hold prominent positions in the South African Chemical Industry. This collaboration also contributed directly to breakthroughs in many areas including catalyst charaterisation, catalytic hydrofomyllation, and methoxy carboxalation and ethylene oligomerisation.

 

Staff and 3rd year students from 1970