Victor Pretorius was born in Randfontein, a town in the former South African province of Transvaal, and matriculated from the Krugersdorp High School in 1945. He interrupted his first year studies at the University of the Witwatersrand to become a big game hunter. After a spell in Mozambique as a professional hunter he returned and registered as a student in agricultural sciences at the University of Pretoria in1947. He decided to change to chemistry and after receiving his BSc (Chemistry and Mathematics) with distinction, he graduated with an MSc in Physical Chemistry with distinction in 1951. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 1952 and went to study kinetics at Oxford University under Nobel Laureate Sir Cyril Hinshelwood. He returned to his alma mater in 1955 with a DPhil (Oxon), where he progressed from senior lecturer (1957) to the position of professor and head of the Department of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry in 1960 at the youthful age of 32. In 1966 he also became director of the research unit for Chromatography of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. From 1975 until his death, he served as director of the Institute for Chromatography at the University of Pretoria.
He was author and co-author of 160 scientific publications, almost exclusively in the field of chromatography, and made contributions to 48 international conferences. He was co-editor of the Journal for High Resolution Chromatography, and was a member of the advisory board of Separation Science and Technology and the Journal of Liquid Chromatography. He was President of the South African Chemical Institute during 1966, and President of the Joint Council of Scientific Societies in 1969. During 1975 he was the President of the Association of Scientific and Technical Societies. He was a director for the Foundation for Education, Science and Technology from 1962, an advisor to the National Chemical Research Laboratories from 1968 to 1970, and the President of the South African Council for Natural Scientists from 1982 till 1989.
He is best remembered for his work on:
• the flame ionization detector (1958)
• turbulent flow chromatography (1965)
• the theory of high performance liquid chromatography (1972)
• investigations on the use of electro-osmotic flow in chromatography (1974).
More recent contributions were his initiation of a thorough study into the solvent effect in GC-inlet techniques, which culminated in the development of the dynamic solvent effect inlet.
His publications have always been characterized by novel concepts, thorough theoretical foundation and elegant experimental work.
During his highly productive and successful research career he received the following awards:
• Carnegie Fellowship (1964),
• AECI Gold Medal (1966),
• Oppenheimer Fellowship (1972),
• Havenga Prize in Chemistry (1972),
• Gold Medal of the South African Chemical Institute (1975),
• Tswett International Medal (1976),
• Chromatography Memorial Medal of the Academy of Sciences, USSR (1978),
• South Africa Medal of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science (1981),
• Claude Harris Leon Foundation Award (1986),
• Honours Award Pretoria Technikon (1987), and the
• University of Pretoria Medal for outstanding academic achievement (1989).
In his native country Prof Pretorius was regarded as South Africa's leading chromatographer and one of its leading scientists. This was reflected by his high rating from the Foundation for Research Development and accounted for his - by local standards - generous research grants. He served on the committees of a multitude of local and international scientific societies and spent a major proportion of his last few years on focused efforts to counter the declining status of science as a career in our country. As part of these efforts the South African Council for Natural Sciences was created of which he became the first president - a position he held up to his death.
Many initiatives in his career were directed at creating sympathetic working environments for intellectuals, passionate scientists, inventors and dreamers. Although his outspoken views were not always popular, he was treated with the highest respect by institutions such as the University of Pretoria and the Foundation for Research Development. This Legacy demonstrates that the academically-minded (surely a most appropriate description of Prof Victor Pretorius) is still appreciated by a society which increasingly tends to judge performance by more visible measures than the ideas and dreams he put into the minds of his co-workers, chromatography friends worldwide, and the many others who enjoyed his stimulating company.
He is remembered as a well-spoken, sharp-witted, intellectual with an intense passion for science, technology and discovering the unknown.
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