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Frank Reginald Nunes Nabarro (1916 - )

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Frank Reginald Nunes Nabarro (1916 - ) Awarded for:
Excellence in the field of science and for inspiring all South Africans.

Profile of Frank Reginald Nunes Nabarro

Frank Reginald Nunes Nabarro was born on 7 March 1916. In 1935 he obtained a first-class honours degree in mathematics from New College, Oxford University, followed by a first in physics in 1937 and another first in mathematics in 1938. At the University of Bristol his work under Professor N F Mott, a future Nobel Laureate in physics, earned him the Oxford degree of BSc (then equivalent to an MSc anywhere else). This would be followed by an MA in 1945.

When World War II broke out he was involved in the aerial defence of London and then joined the Army Operational Research Group, headed by the eminent South African physicist, Brigadier B F J Schonland, later founding president of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). His work on shells' explosive effects resulted in his being made a member of the Order of the British Empire.

From 1945 to 1949 Nabarro was a research fellow at the University of Bristol and then became a lecturer in metallurgy at the University of Birmingham, for which the university awarded him a DSc in 1953. In this year he was invited to become professor of physics and head of the physics department at the University of the Witwatersrand, which needed to be strengthened and directed towards the physics of solids in order to co-operate more fruitfully with industry on the Reef.

Nabarro rebuilt the physics department into one of the strongest in the country and made it a leader in metallurgical research. His own research centred on “creep’, or gradual metal failure under an imposed stress, and crystal dislocations which resulted in the deformation of metals.

Nabarro served as Dean of Science from 1968 to1970 and was Deputy Vice-Chancellor from 1978 to 1980. He was responsible for drawing up what was probably the first academic plan at any South African university. It required the acceptance of the challenge of combining community service and academic excellence, and he predicted that by 2000 half of the university's student body would be black. The prediction was widely derided, but became fact as early as 1997.

Nabarro's work – which includes some 160 research papers, two major books, the editorship of many works and visiting professorships at a number of renowned institutions of learning abroad – has earned him a number of honours. He is, for example, a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and a Foreign Associate of the U S National Academy of Engineering, the only one in Africa. He has received honorary doctorates from the Universities of the Witwatersrand, KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town and Pretoria and has received several medals.

Frank Reginald Nunes Nabarro's most tangible direct legacy to South Africa, however, is found in the significant contributions to science and industry by many of his former students.