Professor Emeritus Eddie Ernest Baart

Eddie Baart had a long history with Rhodes University, enrolling as a student in 1951.  He majored in Physics, Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, and graduated with a BSc with distinction in 1953 and a BSc(Hon) also with distinction in 1954.  He obtained a Doctorate in Nuclear Physics at Liverpool University in 1959, before returning to Rhodes University as a Senior Lecturer in the Physics Department in 1960 after a brief period as a geophysicist in Rhodesia.  He was appointed Professor in 1969 and succeeded Professor Jack Gledhill as Head of Department in 1984, a position he held until 1993.

Professor Baart built up the very successful Radio Astronomy Research Group in the Physics Department.  His involvement dates back to the time when he was a member of the group appointed in 1960 to restart radio astronomy after the work on solar emissions by Prof Stack-Forsyth was concluded.   Prof Baart became a leader in this venture. Their major achievement was a unique radio survey of the southern skies, using the 26m radio telescope at Hartebeesthoek near Pretoria.   It is fair to say that these origins of radio astronomy in South Africa here at Rhodes University ultimately led to the winning of the bid for hosting the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope in 2012.

Prof Baart was a rated researcher under the programme of the Foundation of Research Development, the predecessor of the National Research Foundation.  Between 1971 and 1991 he was a member of the Advisory Board of the South African Astronomical Observatory and served as President of the Astronomical Society of South Africa in 1981 and 1982.  Professor Baart also published numerous papers throughout his career. 

His publishing work continued into this year, in the form of a chapter written by him on contributions at Rhodes University to South African physics, for a book on the History of Physics in South Africa, published by the SA Institute of Physics.

With the current crisis in education in South Africa topical, it is worth noting that Rhodes University was one of the earliest institutions to take Physics Education seriously as a legitimate research area.  Against the grain, Prof Baart took the courageous route of using practical research findings directly in his teaching methodology and testing them.  Rhodes became known for the quality of its Physics teaching and its high level of interaction with the students.  For his efforts in teaching, Prof Baart was recognised with a Carnegie Fellowship in Physics Education and awarded the first Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1991.

Prof Baart served Rhodes in an extensive range of capacities.  He was a Senate representative on Rhodes University Council for 21 years (1973 – 1994), served as the Dean of Science in 1976 and 1977 and between 1980 and 1982.  He also acted a Pro-Vice-Chancellor on numerous occasions.  Records show that Prof Baart founded the Electronic Services Unit, which now serves the whole University.  He was Chairman of Computer Steering Committee for many years during which time there was a significant expansion of the network at Rhodes University.  These were the formative years of the Internet in South Africa and we are proud to say, Rhodes University did the pioneering work.  For many years, Professor Baart was in charge of equipment for lecture theatres and helped introduce the University to photocopying, offset-litho printing, overhead and other projectors and word processors and spreadsheet packages for academic departments and the Library.  He acted as a Sub-Warden, House Warden and Hall Warden, counseling and mentoring generations of students.  Prof Baart was also the founding Chairman of the Rhodes University Bequest Association. 

However, it was not all work for Eddie as many of his colleagues recall. He played rugby for Rhodes as a student and excelled at squash.  He became the Administrative Secretary of the local Shakespeare Society, was involved in amateur drama at Rhodes well before there was a Drama Department, and played many leading parts in productions of the Grahamstown Amateur Dramatic Society (GADS).  Mixing fun with work, he put in considerable time and effort in demonstrating “The Fun of Physics” as the “Mad Professor” to school children of all ages, at schools, at SciFest and at the Albany Museum.  Before and since retirement Prof Baart made a name for himself and brought considerable respect to Rhodes University for his expertise as “Expert Witness” in cases involving the physics of motor and other accidents. 

In October this year, Professor Baart was acknowledged by his close colleagues in the Physics Department at their year-end function, for his long and influential service to Physics at Rhodes.  Many of the processes and values within Teaching and Learning and research processes in the department carry evidence of his leadership and influence.

Earlier this month, Professor Baart was honoured with the Distinguished Old Rhodian award in recognition of his exceptional contribution to Rhodes University and to the discipline of Physics.

Professor Baart died on the 23rd of December 2014 in the Aurora Hospital in Port Elizabeth.

Professor Baart is survived by his wife, Janine, and his extended family.  He contributed much in his life, with enthusiasm and good humour, and will be remembered with respect and fondness.