Scientist who put stars in South Africans' eyes honoured with National Research Foundation award

26 September 2018 - 17:13 By Dave Chambers
Foundation CEO Molapo Qhobela said Bernie Fanaroff, would be most remembered as the man who brought the SKA‚ which will be the largest scientific project in the world‚ to South Africa and Africa.
Foundation CEO Molapo Qhobela said Bernie Fanaroff, would be most remembered as the man who brought the SKA‚ which will be the largest scientific project in the world‚ to South Africa and Africa.
Image: SKA

The man who led South Africa’s bid to host the world’s largest telescope received a lifetime achievement award on Wednesday at the 2018 National Research Foundation Awards in Port Elizabeth.

Bernie Fanaroff‚ the former director of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project‚ was acknowledged for contributions of international standard and impact‚ the development of science in and for South Africa over an extended period‚ and for the way his work has touched and shaped the lives and views of many South Africans.

Foundation CEO Molapo Qhobela said Fanaroff‚ 71‚ would be most remembered as the man who brought the SKA‚ which will be the largest scientific project in the world‚ to South Africa and the continent as a whole.

“Dr Fanaroff is one of those rare individuals who has dedicated his life to the betterment of society through his innovative scientific achievements‚ his activism against apartheid and his unwavering commitment to public service‚” he said.

Accepting the award‚ Fanaroff said he had been motivated by scientific curiosity and the desire to see social justice‚ and had always been optimistic.

“There are challenges‚ yes‚ but there are always opportunities. And if we have the will‚ and we have the tenacity‚ and we work together‚ we can really solve any problem‚" he said.

"We can see those problems as opportunities. We can build on them to create a great future for our country.”

Fanaroff graduated in theoretical physics from Wits University‚ and after obtaining a doctorate in radio astronomy from Cambridge University in 1974 he spent 19 years working for the Metal and Allied Workers Union.

After the first democratic election in 1994‚ he became deputy director-general in the office of President Nelson Mandela. He set up the South African SKA project office in 2003 and led the conceptualisation‚ development and construction of SKA’s precursor‚ the 64-dish MeerKAT telescope array‚ which was completed in March 2018.

Fanaroff retired in 2015 but is an adviser to the SKA project.

The NRF honoured 37 top researchers with special awards or by recognising them as P-rated (for under-35s who have held a doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years) or A-rated (which denotes unequivocal recognition by their peers as leading international scholars).

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