Duncan Baker – celebrating a lifetime of engineering

May 3rd, 2016, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


Prof. Duncan Charles Baker and his grandson Jaryd (Picture by courtesy of Eastern Times July 2013)

Prof. Duncan Charles Baker and his grandson Jaryd. Picture by courtesy of Eastern Times July 2013).

Duncan Baker was born in 1938 in Scotland. In 1955 he started his studies at Rhodes University where in 1964 he obtained an MSc in physics. During 1961-1963 he worked with the South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) as an ionosphericist. He was on the maiden voyage of South Africa’s first Antarctic supply ship. He headed ionospheric research at the National Institute for Telecommunications Research (NITR) at the CSIR from 1969. In 1982 he moved to the University of Pretoria until his retirement in 2003 but instead of simply retiring, he joined the DA and in 2006  was elected as  a City Councillor for the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality.

Prof. Baker joined the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) in 1980 and served in many positions.

He was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in 1998 for “leadership in engineering education in electromagnetic compatibility, computational electromagnetics and ionospheric propagation, as well as contributions to ionospheric modelling”. He was later awarded a Life Fellowship. In 2001 he received the SAIEE President’s Award.

He was chairman of the IEEE South Africa Section in 1993 and held a number of positions through the years in the IEEE at various levels. His recent efforts included his successful nomination of SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk for the IEEE honorary membership, which was awarded last year.

Prof. Baker was active in the Applied Computational Electromagnetic Society (ACES), formed in 1986 in the USA. The Association was introduced to South Africa that same year during a short course and workshop on numerical electromagnetic code (NEC) at the University of Pretoria organised by him and Derek McNamara from the CSIR. In 1993 he received the ACES award for board of director activities and promotional projects. The same year he was appointed as editor in chief of the ACES journal, a position he held for five years. He joined the ACES Board in 1994 and served until 1997.

He authored and co-authored many papers published in the ACES Journal. In 1989 he was the lead author with Terry Reus of a paper entitled “Evaluation and validation of the method of moments code NEC2 in the design of log periodic dipole arrays with low sidelobe levels for broadcast applications”. His passion was in antenna and radio wave propagation. In 1990 he published a paper “Limited comparison of predicted and measured results for an HF ground-arrayed of periodic dipole array” and in 1991 a paper on the functioning of a helicopter-borne HP loop antenna.

Prof. Baker believed strongly that education is the key to South Africa’s future. In 2004, while editor of the SAIEE Transactions he wrote a hard hitting editorial. He wrote that fundamental to any research is education. “In recent years there has been a flurry of comments and reports by respected and learned colleagues such as Drs. Vijay Reddy and, Michael Kahn and Prof. Jonathan Jansen criticising the poor state of school and higher level education in South Africa. While not all school leavers can aspire to higher education in terms of admission requirements, we do have a social responsibility to ensure that those who do have the potential to excel get the opportunity to do so. Having said that, it is NOT the responsibility of teachers or lecturers/educators to get learners/students through. It is, however, important that we create the environment within which our school leavers can excel and achieve their maximum potential.”

On the question of school level mathematics he wrote that a disturbing feature has been the tendency for schools to direct learners/students to standard grade levels instead of higher grade. This of course has been done in order to enhance the school statistics. He further wrote: “On closer examination the common factor in the poor state of school level mathematics appears to be increased hands-on political management. It reflects poorly on national education departments if too many students fail in any particular area. Undoubtedly the educational environment in South Africa is heavily politicised. One can see the evidence for this in the knee-jerk reactions by Department of Education spokespersons to any adverse criticism of the ‘matric’ exams. To be blunt, it is time that politicians limited themselves to setting the policy and direction of the Department of Education, and leave the formulation of suitable internationally comparable curricula, and the teaching of these curricula to those best qualified to do so. We have many highly skilled educators, drawn from various backgrounds, who would like nothing better than to shape a bright educational future for our children.”

After his retirement from the University of Pretoria he entered politics as a DA City councillor for Ward 46, Pretoria East. As in his education career, he dedicated himself to deliver to the people. He had a vision. In a July 2013 interview with a local newspaper he said “I visualise a time when development in the eastern areas will be well-planned and coordinated and will be of benefit, not only to the city and developers, but, more importantly, to the affected communities. We can no longer afford the ad hoc approach, which has become common in the east.  My desire is for communities to live in harmony with each other and to respect the rights of others in terms of the Constitution; communities that are socially committed to making our city a better place for all its residents.”

He lived his vision and although announcing his retirement from the City Council a few months before his passing on 12 March 2016, he spoke with passion about how he was going to devote his time to educate the younger generation, to fulfill his vision. Once an educator always an educator. Once an engineer, always an engineer!

May his legacy live on.

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