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Department History

If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.
- Issac Newton, 1676

Geological Sciences at UCT

1890's - South African College

In the 1890's the South African College was situated very close to the Geological Commission of the Cape of Good Hope and it was natural that the latter should be closely associated with the development of geology at the College. Although the department's early reputation was closely involved with first-rate teaching, it soon began to develop an active research programme. During this period geochemistry played a large role in the activities of the department.

1940's - Founding of the Geochemistry Research Unit

Geochemistry at UCT started in the 1940s with the classic and monumental studies of Professors F. Walker and A. Poldevaart on the Karoo dolerites. This was followed in the early 1950s by the installation of an optical emission spectrograph, funded by the Carnegie Corporation, for the analysis of rocks and minerals.

1950's - Founding of Marine Geoscience and Precambrian Research Units

The most dynamic phase in the Department's history began with the appointment of Professor Eric Simpson as Head of Department in the mid-1950s. Under his direction, the Marine Geoscience Unit was founded. This attracted a number of scientists of international reputation, Professor Simpson also created the Precambrian Research unit.

1960's to the Present

In the early 1960s, under Professor L.H. Ahrens, the first holder of the Chamber of Mines Chair of Geochemistry, the then new analytical technique of X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy was introduced into the Department. Since that time the Department has been very active in this field and today enjoys a well-earned international reputation.

In 1965 the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Geochemistry Research Unit was founded in the Department, with Professor Ahrens as Director. Research activities expanded rapidly and the production of new and very high quality data on meteorites led to participation in the NASA Apollo Lunar Science Program. Dr A.R. Duncan was appointed as Research Officer to supervise the research into the structure and compostion of the lunar rock samples.

Research now covers an exceptionally wide field, from meteorites and lunar samples through marine sediments and rocks from the mid-ocean islands to estuarine sediments and power station ash.