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Looking back and seeing how far it has come in 100 years is part and parcel of the centenary celebrations of the School of Biological Sciences, with both Zoology and Botany remembering their roots from 1920.
As staff members, students and alumni prepare for a celebration of note, the NWU & U dipped into the archives for some interesting historical milestones and facts about each of these subject fields. In this edition, the focus is on Zoology.
Starting from humble beginnings
The stable setup started after the appointment of Sieg Eiselen as the first full-time lecturer in plant and animal sciences in February 1920. The stable, which was part of the former presidential residence of MW Pretorius, was converted into a makeshift laboratory, while lectures were given in the hallway and on the porch of the main house.
It is said that because the lighting in the main house was so poor, much of the practical work and many of the dissections had to be done outside, with Sieg himself carrying buckets of water from the Mooi River to the presidency laboratory.
Student numbers grow
Despite the primitiveness of the facilities, the student numbers kept growing.
Although existing records do not provide an exact number of enrolled students, the number of microscopes the Zoology department borrowed, serves as an indication.
In 1921, it acquired the first microscope and two years later, borrowed 40 more from the Potchefstroom Agricultural College.
How times have changed. A century ago, a stable was the setting in which zoology students did their practical work in Potchefstroom. That’s hard to imagine given the state-of-the-art laboratories that the students of today occupy.
A year of celebration
The Zoology subject group had planned to mark its centenary with a year of special programmes, exhibits and activities that celebrate its impact on teaching, learning and research, while working to create opportunities to further advance new ideas in years to come.
The festivities kicked off earlier in 2020 but, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, will now be conducted online or postponed to a later date.
According to Prof Rialet Pieters, an associate professor and subject group manager, the subject group had planned to host a series of public lectures by international experts such as Dr Ian McCallum, Prof Richard Sikora and Prof Bernd Sures.
Other activities that will have to be postponed include several community engagement events, such as Prof Jonny van den Berg’s introduction to the insect world for pre-schoolers at the Botanical Gardens in Potchefstroom.
Postgraduate students were planning a river clean-up in May for International Fish Migration Day, as well as an outreach to the local branch of PAWS.
A special centennial edition of the African Journal of Zoology will feature a series of research articles by staff members of the subject group. Another fun activity is Frogging Day, when all staff and student dress up as frogs.
Depending on developments around the pandemic, a number of social activities and reunions are also planned for later in the year.
Changing over the decades
Here is a timeline of how Zoology grew and changed over the decades.
NWU & U