6 January 2020

Dr Reinhard Richard (Rein) Arndt, one of South Africa’s visionary science leaders and research strategists, passed away at his Stellenbosch home on 1 January 2020, aged 90. He will be dearly missed by his wife, Aritha, four daughters, four sons-in-law and 10 grandchildren, as well as many other family members and friends.

A memorial service to celebrate his life and honour his legacy will be held on Tuesday 14 January 2020 at 11:00, at the Lutheran Church, 26 Hofmeyr Street, Stellenbosch.

A life devoted to scientific freedom and excellence

As inaugural president of the Foundation for Research Development (FRD), established in 1990, Dr Arndt played a formative role in the South African science system. [The FRD was the predecessor of the National Research Foundation (NRF)]. At the FRD, he was instrumental in the development of South Africa’s unique system for the peer evaluation and rating of researchers. This system, designed to recognise and reward exceptional and promising researchers, remains in use at the NRF 30 years later.

Dr Arndt was committed to promoting research excellence as a tool to sustain socio-economic growth in South Africa. An organic chemist by training, he was equally dedicated to the objective of advancing local manufacturing and the beneficiation of South Africa’s raw materials. He strived to develop young research talent and to make South Africa’s science funding more inclusive, while maintaining a balance between supporting basic and applied research. Having seen the benefits of international collaboration in his early research career, he initiated several programmes aimed at internationalising South African science and encouraging collaboration between local and international research leaders. He retired as FRD President in 1996.

Earlier studies and career[1]

After matriculating at Grey College in Bloemfontein in 1947, he studied organic chemistry and business science, obtaining a DSc from the University of the Orange Free State (1959) and an MBA from the University of Pretoria (1957). His appointment at the CSIR in 1955 was the beginning of a highly productive research period in his career, focused on the study of novel alkaloids. He left in 1967 to become part of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the launch of a new university. As one of the founders of the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU[2]), Dr Arndt established its chemistry department, which he headed for the following 12 years. His next academic post was as professor of organic chemistry at Stellenbosch University from 1979 – 1980. He returned to the CSIR as deputy president in 1981, where he played a key role in reformulating and restructuring this organisation in a fast-changing environment.

As visiting professor, he spent time at Stanford University (1964 – 1965), die Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zürich (1972) and Cambridge University (1978). During the period 1992 – 1993 he received honorary doctorates from Potchefstroom University for CHE, Stellenbosch University and the University of the Orange Free State, while he also received a DSc from the University of Natal in 1999. Other awards in recognition of his contribution to South African science included the Claude Harris Leon Award in 1990; the South African Medal (Gold) by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science (S2A3) in 1992; and the Gold Hendrik van Eck Medal of the South African Chemistry Institute (SACI) in 1996.

After his retirement, he remained actively involved as advisor for higher education institutions and participated in studies and projects coordinated by the Academy of Science of South Africa and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies. He remained intensely interested in South Africa’s scientific landscape.

[1] Source: Vaughan, C.L. (2015). On the Shoulders of Oldenburg: A biography of the Academic Rating System in South Africa. National Research Foundation, South Africa

[2] Now University of Johannesburg (UJ)