Honorary doctorates for pioneers in the arts, medicine, and science

24 March 2014 | Story by Newsroom

This year UCT will award honorary degrees to eight world-renowned figures for their significant contributions to their respective fields. These awards will be made at the June and December graduation ceremonies.

The honorands are:

  • Dr William Carmichael, human rights activist and leader in civil society;
  • Dr Bernard "Bernie" Lewis Fanaroff, scientist and diplomat;
  • William Kentridge, globally acclaimed artist;
  • Professor Rodney Douglas, innovative neuroscientist;
  • David Fanning, distinguished international media figure;
  • Professor Henry Louis Gates: one of the US's foremost public intellectuals;
  • Professor Salim Abdool Karim, global leader in HIV prevention and treatment; and
  • Dr Michael Thackeray, pioneer in energy storage and a world leader in the development of lithium batteries.

Dr William Carmichael is an economics graduate of Yale, Princeton and Oxford who came to South Africa in the mid-1970s as head of the Ford Foundation's Office for the Middle East and Africa. Under his leadership in South Africa, the Ford Foundation played an important role in supporting a wide range of individuals and organisations working in civil society. The Ford South Africa programme helped to transform the historically white universities through alternative education programmes. The nomination recognises his significant contribution to the life and mission of UCT and to broader South African society, notably in the fields of education and law.

Dr Bernie Fanaroff's academic background is in radio astronomy and theoretical physics. He has raised awareness of science in South Africa and the country's ability to contribute to the global scientific community. He supported the growth of astronomy and the launch of radio astronomy at UCT, through the South African Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Human Capacity Development programme. This forms part of the broader SKA endeavour. He will be honoured for his scientific reputation, diplomatic skills and for his role in helping secure South Africa's part of the SKA bid.

William Kentridge is one of the most successful South African artists of his generation. He has exhibited and staged productions in major cities and galleries around the world, including New York, Kyoto and Paris. His awards include the Carnegie Medal, the Kyoto Prize and the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. Over the past 25 years Kentridge has matched his stature as an artist by an increasing presence as a public intellectual. He is extraordinarily well-read in the visual arts and music as well as politics and history. He is an excellent public speaker on the arts and on South African and global politics.

Professor Rodney Douglas is an outstanding neuroscientist who spearheaded major advances in his field. The UCT alumnus has revolutionised the understanding of cerebral cortex functioning through anatomical and computational studies of the visual cortex. He is also recognised for his ability to combine skilled bench work with computational and theoretical approaches, based on emerging technologies. One of his most notable developments was the "canonical microcircuit": a fundamental functional microcircuit of the visual cortex that he and colleagues established. Douglas also developed software, available in the public domain, to assist neuroscientists unravel patterns of synaptic connectivity in brain tissue. In addition, he has launched many careers in neuroscience, having supervised over 40 PhD graduates. He has close ties to UCT's Department of Human Biology and has facilitated special study periods and sabbaticals at Oxford and The Institute of Neuroinformatics in Zurich.

David Fanning is the founder of Frontline, the US's longest-running public television investigative documentary series, distinguished for its excellence, independence and integrity. As such, he's regarded as one of the most distinguished international media figures to have emerged from UCT. As the series' executive producer for 30 years, he has maintained and extended the tradition of investigative documentary journalism. An early adopter of the internet, Frontline has streamed most of its documentaries free. His awards include Harvard University's Goldsmith Career award for Excellence in Journalism, 65 Emmy awards and, in 2013, the prestigious National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award.

Professor Henry Louis Gates is one of the US's foremost public intellectuals: a reputed literary critic, educator, scholar, documentary maker, writer and editor. Apart from teaching at other prestigious universities, Professor Gates is also the Director of the WEB du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and founding Director of the Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research. He was instrumental in establishing the Harvard Mandela Fellowships at the Du Bois Institute, which have supported the sabbatical studies of several UCT academics at Harvard University. The major focus of his work has been the figure of the African-American in American and global literature and politics. Through his work he has consistently sought to show how important it is for scholars to develop a better understanding of how racism has blighted modern society.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim is internationally renowned for his ground-breaking research in HIV/AIDS. His highest-impact scientific discovery was the effect of tenofovir gel, as a microbicide, in preventing both HIV and genital herpes. This landmark study, led with his wife, provided the first evidence that antiretroviral drugs can prevent sexual transmission of HIV infection. The finding was heralded by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation as one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs in the fight against AIDS, and was ranked among the Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs in 2010 by the journal Science. He chairs the UNAIDS Scientific Expert Panel and recently led the revitalisation of the South African Medical Research Council.

Dr Michael Thackeray has made several important contributions to energy storage, inventing and developing new electrode materials for battery systems as well as translating these materials into viable technologies. As a world leader, he has pioneered several major advances in metal oxide electrodes for lithium batteries, notably manganese-oxide spinel materials now used in electric vehicles. The UCT alumnus is the former head of the Battery Department at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, where the ZEBRA battery was invented. He later joined Argonne National Laboratory in the US, where he is a Distinguished Fellow and the director of the US Department of Energy's Centre for Electrical Energy Storage. A prolific author, he holds 51 patents, many of which have been licensed to industry worldwide. As a scientist, his h-index value of 63 (with over 12 000 citations of his publications) puts him in the very top tier. Thackeray has maintained his relationships with South African scientists, including many at UCT.

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