History of the Department of Chemical Engineering

History of the Department

The Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Pretoria was established in 1959. The Department’s first group of Chemical Engineering students was registered 1959 in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, but transferred to the Department of Chemical Engineering as soon as the Department of Chemical Engineering was formally organized in 1960 and recorded her first graduates in 1962. Since then, her annual number of graduates has shown a steady increase from 7 in 1962 to 147 in 2013, and about 1 356 Chemical Engineers have graduated in the 61 years that the Department has been delivering graduates to industry.

Although the Department has a set curriculum for the undergraduate and the honours degree programme, it offers some specialisation in the fourth year of study of the UG programme and research component in the honours programme in line with its research foci in Sustainable Environment and Water Utilisation, Advanced and Applied Materials, Sustainable and Efficient Energy and, Process Synthesis, Control, and Optimisation. Furthermore, cutting-edge research activities are conducted at the postgraduate degree programme in all the aforemnetioend research foci. The BEng (Chemical) degree programme of the department is fully accredited by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), thereby retaining the international recognition and acceptability of the degree programme as stipulated in the Washington Accord agreement.

As far as staffing is concerned, the academic staff strength of the Department of Chemical Engineering is sustainable. Six of the academic staff members are Black African and two are female. To enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the department, senior academics attract and mentor a minimum of one black postdoc per year. In addition, mentoring of junior academics, especially black African colleagues by senior colleagues in the Department is encouraged and supported. In addition, between 50-60% of total population of the students enrolled in the department are black.

The department is well organized to communicate regulations and policies in a clear and courteous manner, and afford grievances the proper attention. Therefore, committees that will harness the wealth of experience of members of the Department in administration, were established. The Department has a vibrant and committed Advisory Board that provides critical review of our programme, as this allows us to confirm actions that we believe we should do well and identify issues that will help us to improve.

Prof. Dawie Schoeman was the first Head of Department. When he became Dean of the Faculty of Engineering in 1980, Prof Uys Grimsehl succeeded him and on his retirement as HOD in 2004, Prof Philip de Vaal was appointed as Head of Department. Upon retirement of Prof Philip de Vaal as the HOD in 2019, Prof Michael Daramola was appointed in 2020 as the first Black African HOD of the Department, indicating the commitment of the department to diversity, equity and inclusion.   

Postgraduate degree programme

The postgraduate degree programmes in the Department comprise:

  • Honours degree programme
  • Masters degree programme
  • PhD degree programme


The honours degree programme in the Department is a taught degree programme for which excellence in teaching and learning is given priority in the Department. The Department offers Hons degree programmes in Chemical Engineering, Water Utilisation Engineering, Control Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Water Utilisation, Chemical Technology and Environmental Technology.  The department consistently ensures that effective teaching and learning occur in the honours degree programme through provision of management support and conducive environment for both lecturers and the learners. Furthermore, lecturers of the Hons degree programme are always given the needed support to deliver high quality teaching. In a few cases, colleagues from industry were appointed as part-time lecturers to strengthen the Hons degree programme.

To make postgraduate supervision efficient and effective for its purpose, one needs to know that learning through engineering education is expected to transform the mind and the transformation is expected to be noticed by the learners and the society because transformative learning should shape the learners and re-orientate their minds. In addition, postgraduate supervision in chemical engineering education and training should not be seen as a means to produce a good research outcome, but rather as a transformative process whereby special skills are developed. To promote sharing of knowledge and network building that could facilitate collaborative research efforts within different research units in the Department, there is a bi-weekly seminar that provides the PG students the opportunity to present their research results to their colleagues and academic staff, and also to receive constructive comments that help them to improve the quality of their work. Guest lecturers were invited occasionally to share ideas at the seminar as well.

Research and International Profile

Innovation, in particular technological innovation, drives improvement in the socio-economic growth of a nation. Therefore, the research focus in the Department harnesses the strong research activities existing in the Department for knowledge creation and human capacity development towards developing sustainable technological solutions that improve the socio-economic situation of South Africa, Africa and developing settings. The knowledge and tools generated via the Departmental research focus are globally relevant. At the same time, their application is often embedded in the local context to benefit societies in South Africa, Africa and developing countries. In addition, the departmental research focus intends to build interdisciplinary research activities that ground sustainability in energy, environment & sanitation, clean water production and utilization, food production, and advanced & applied materials in their socio-economic context to ensure relevance and impact, particularly in developing nations. The research activities in the Department have a two-fold focus with a good balance between fundamental research and industrial application aiming at proffering solutions to various socio-economic problems mitigating sustainability in the areas mentioned above in South Africa, Africa and the developing nations.

The Department's research focus is divided into four main themes, namely sustainable environment and water utilisation processes; sustainable and efficient energy processes; advanced and applied materials; and process synthesis , control and optimisation.

The concerted efforts of the staff members of the Department towards actualising the vision and mission of the Department resulted in pushing up the global ranking (QS ranking) of the Department from the Top 350 in 2021 to the Top 300 in 2022 and in 2023, making it the 1st  best Department of Chemical Engineering in South Africa in 2023.

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